CIANA Explains: Human Trafficking, the Modern-Day Slavery Epidemic

January was Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month. While many people are reluctant to admit that slavery still exists in the present day, human trafficking, a modern form of slavery, takes place here in the United States, often right under our noses. Approximately between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked in the U.S. every year.

Human trafficking can be split into two major forms: labor and sex trafficking. Labor trafficking is when people are forced to work in sometimes life-threatening conditions without pay. Sex trafficking is essentially forced prostitution. A large portion of sex workers in the U.S. do not enter the trade willingly, but rather are victims of trafficking.

However, there are over 25 distinct forms of trafficking, each one having its own set of characteristics and victims.

Who Gets Trafficked?

Traffickers look to vulnerable populations, women and children in particular, with little money, no language skills, and lots of fear. These factors put immigrants and refugees at a higher likelihood of being trafficked, and inhibit their ability to fight back, as well as their willingness to reach out for help.

Syrian refugees, for instance, are often the poorest demographic in many countries, which puts them at a high risk of being picked up by traffickers.

Refugee children are especially at risk; it is estimated that about 10,000 unaccompanied minors go missing on the way there from their countries of origin, likely due to trafficking.

Many trafficking victims in the U.S. are immigrant women. Some are smuggled into the U.S. from parts of Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe, while others are forced into the trade upon arriving. They’re often isolated and physically kept removed from the outside world, making escape or rescue a near impossibility.

Why Does Trafficking Take Place?

It is a common myth that traffickers always kidnap or force their victims into trafficking. Throughout Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Americas, traffickers manipulate their victims, threatening to harm their families if they refuse to come with them.

In other cases, victims are lured by the promise of stable employment, housing, money, and even love; victims might begin dating someone who then turns out to be a trafficker. The archetypal teenage runaway often falls prey to this particular narrative.

Some victims are even sold by their families, who may need the money, might feel threatened if they do not do so, or simply do not value the lives of certain relatives.