A Project for Better Journalism chapter

True crime hidden in plain sight: Alarming human trafficking rates soar worldwide

With worldwide sex offenders like Jeffrey Epstein and his alleged co-conspirator Ghislaine Maxwell all over the headlines, the dangers of child sex trafficking have made their way into homes across the globe.

The United Nations defines human trafficking, or the “trafficking in persons”, as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of threat to achieve the consent of having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. It’s been estimated that there are about 20-40 million people in modern servitude today. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide including right here in the United States,71% of which are females and 29% who are male.

Unfortunately, it’s very hard to take action on these cases because a majority of them go undetected. Estimates suggest that, internationally, only about .04% survivors of human trafficking cases are identified, meaning that the vast majority of cases of human trafficking are unknown.

Why are victims being trafficked?

Human trafficking branches out into many different types of exploitation including sex, forced labor, marriage, and organ removal. This is happening everywhere in the world and can include any person, regardless of age, socio-economic background, race or location. Consequently, each case can look very different.

Sex trafficking is the most common form of human trafficking in the world, especially in the United States.

“The United States is the number one consumer of sex worldwide”, said Geoff Rogers, co-founder of the United States Institute Against Human Trafficking in an interview with Fox News. “So we are driving the demand as a society.”

Sex trafficking is a high-profit and low-risk business where victims can be sold repeatedly to engage in sexual acts in return for money. As a whole, human trafficking earns global profits of roughly $150 billion a year for traffickers, $99 billion of which comes from sexual exploitation.

Sex servitude involves males and females, both adults and children, and constitutes an estimated 58 percent of all trafficking activities. It consists of different types of servitude, including forced prostitution, pornography, child sex rings, and sex-related occupations such as nude dancing and modeling. Truck stops, hotel rooms, rest areas, street corners, clubs, and private residences are some of the places where victims are forced to sell sex.

Moreover, another very common form of trafficking involves forced labor.

Forced labour has been around for a very long time. However, there are a number of different forms of modern servitude that take place today that easily goes unnoticed by the public. Victims of forced labor can be found in factories, farms, construction sites, restaurants, hotels, etc. These victims are forced to work extreme hours with little to no pay at all. They may look like regular employees, but many times any of these employees can be a victim of human trafficking. Furthermore, the majority of these non-sex laborers are forced into domestic service.

Domestic service involves a person who works within an employer’s home while performing many types of tasks. These victims become severely controlled by their employers restricting them from going anywhere or doing anything. They are basically being stripped of their freedom as they also suffer physical and sexual abuse. Consequently, victims of domestic servitude are hidden in plain sight making it even harder to identify and rescue them. 

How are victims being captured?

Traffickers often use violence, manipulation, false promises of well-paying jobs, or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations. They look for people who are vulnerable to a variety of reasons, including psychological/emotional vulnerability, economic hardship, lack of a social safety net, natural disasters, or political instability. 

Some traffickers prey on poor and unemployed people from other countries by bribing them with fake jobs, visas, or passports. These victims often leave their home country voluntarily thinking that they’re going to be met with real employment. When they arrive they find that the promised work does not exist, or that conditions are completely different. They become trapped, reliant on their traffickers. These victim’s documents are often taken away and used as a threat against them causing them to become very vulnerable and more controlled by the traffickers.

Additionally, predators and human traffickers can gain access to victims online because people aren’t always aware of how dangerous online environments can be. Parents should also be aware that one of the most common ways that traffickers access children is through the use of social media sites, as well. Predators oftentimes take advantage of this and stalk online meeting places to lure their victims.

On the other hand, some of these victims are simply just being kidnapped in numerous types of ways.  All over social media there have been reports of people telling stories of how they were almost kidnapped or tricked into being kidnapped. For instance, many cases were reported where people would hear the sound of a crying baby coming from outside their homes. The goal was to lure these victims out of their home to “investigate” where the sound was coming from and that way the predators could easily kidnap the victims. For these traffickers, it’s all about the vulnerability of victims.

How can you help?

There are a number of ways you can help fight against human trafficking. Consider the following:

  • Learn more about the issue as a whole as it can help you identify a potential trafficking victim. Many training programs are available that guide individuals in how to identify victims and what to do in these situations.
  • Encourage companies to take steps to investigate and prevent human trafficking in their supply chains and publish information so that others are aware.
  • Organize a fundraiser and donate the proceeds to an anti-trafficking organization.
  • Ecourage your local schools to include modern slavery in their curricula. Make sure to be aware of how traffickers often target children.
  • Use your social media platforms to raise awareness about human trafficking and educate people about what’s going on.
  • Learn how to recognize traffickers’ recruitment tactics, how to safely navigate out of suspicious or uncomfortable situations, and how to reach out for help at any time.
  • Take action in your school by joining or establishing a club to raise awareness about human trafficking and initiate action throughout your local community.
  • If you’re ever in a situation where you suspect some might be a victim of human trafficking call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

Human trafficking is one of the most hidden crimes possible. At times, the crime can be taking place right in front of us and we wouldn’t even realize it. It’s important to always be aware of what’s happening around us.