Slavery occurs when one person completely controls another person, using violence or the threat of violence to maintain that control, exploits them economically, pays them nothing and bars them from leaving. There are many forms of slavery such as forced labor, sex trafficking, and human trafficking to name a few. The term slavery is interchangeable with trafficking.
Human trafficking is the second-fastest growing criminal industry in the world behind the drug trade. Often referred to as the “modern-day slave trade,” human trafficking exploits its victims for a variety of purposes including prostitution, pornography and labor. Trafficking involves transporting people away from their communities and forcing them to work against their will. It consists of three elements: The act–what is done, such as recruitment and transportation; the means–how it is done whether by threat, force, coercion, deception and giving payments; and the purpose–why it is done. This industry generates about $9.5 billion a year in the United States. The victims most susceptible to human trafficking are those who are impoverished, uneducated and from rural areas. Most in the U.S. are runaways or forgotten youths who have either been abused or abandoned, and live on the streets. This is why promises of better jobs and a better life may sometimes trick young boys and girls into the trade.
Sex trafficking is the most commonly identified form of human trafficking. This occurs when victims are forced into prostitution and sexual slavery. According to the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children, one out of every three teens will be lured towards prostitution within 48 hours of running away from home. They are usually promised a better life, or were kidnapped and pressured, but they become enslaved upon arrival and forced to perform sexual acts against their will. Victims of sex trafficking can come from abroad or even your own neighborhood. Most are under-aged and are abused emotionally and physically by their controllers. Sex trafficking is a major issue in the U.S. because legislation classifies most sex workers as criminals, not victims. The average age of girls when they are first forced into prostitution is 12-14 years old and 11-13 years old for boys. Oftentimes, these laws and social stigma surrounding the issue make it difficult for victims to fight back against their controllers and report their situations, and they make the task of eradicating the crime harder as well. About 300,000 American youths are at risk of becoming victims of human sex trafficking. Believe it or not, many governments protect commercial sex businesses because of the monstrous profits.
Labor exploitation is another form of trafficking. It represents a forced servitude in which victims are made to forcibly serve their employer(s) for years. Hotel employees, restaurant staff, agricultural laborers, factory workers and domestic servants are often identified in the United States as victims of labor trafficking. Children are forced into labor trafficking as well, toiling on farms or in sweatshops with little or no pay, and no schooling or proper care.
Victims of human trafficking are subjected to violence and brutality. But they are primarily controlled by subtle techniques that can go unnoticed. Isolation from the public and family members is an example. But some controllers have been known to confiscate passports and identification papers, telling victims they will be imprisoned or deported if they go to the police. They also threaten to shame them by exposing their situation or use debt enslavement where the victim owes the controller huge amounts of money. All of these techniques of control explain how hard it is for victims of human trafficking to free or protect themselves from being misused.
The number of human sex trafficking victims domestically and internationally is in the millions. Most of them are women and children. The majority of sex trafficking occurs internationally but Atlanta was named by the FBI as one of the top 14 cities with the highest number of child prostitutes. What used to be a lightly reported crime in the city has now become a targeted issue that hundreds of Atlanta law enforcement officers have been trained to combat.
There is no single solution to eradicating slavery but there are ways that we can give care to its victims to help them start a new life. Consider working with at-risk people so they do not fall into the trap of prostitution. Let others know there is a problem and encourage them to get involved to help spread the word to end human trafficking. Consider volunteering with these non-profits that work to end slavery: Polaris Project, End it Movement, and Not for Sale Campaign.