Human Trafficking: Statistics and Definitions
By Kersley Fitzgerald
Note: This series is on human trafficking, including sex trafficking. Terms are plain, although situations are not explicit. Still, reader discretion is advised.
This is the first post in a series of articles on human trafficking. Recently I started volunteering with Restore Innocence, a local ministry endeavoring to build a home where victims of sex trafficking can live and heal. The issue seemed so big and impossible that I figured there was no way I could make a difference. For some reason, that really resonated with me. It has to be a God-thing—and it is.
What do nineteenth-century New Orleans, ancient Rome, and the Super Bowl have in common? They are all excellent places to buy slaves.
Several years ago, domestic violence and the abolishment thereof became a very big deal. A Google search of “domestic violence” will yield 38.7 million hits. Shelters for women and kids with no place to go are scattered across the country. Abuse still happens, but people are aware. We better understand the dynamics of relationships and the triggers of violence. We know there are preventative measures—from anger management courses to temporary foster care. That is a good thing, and the fight goes on.
Human trafficking is kind of the next big deal. Google yields 11.5 million hits. I’ve seen several documentaries over the last year that randomly popped up on cable channels. People are beginning to take notice. That’s a good thing. And we have a long way to go.
What exactly is human trafficking? Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person by the threat or use of force, fraud, deception, or coercion, or the giving or receiving of unlawful payments for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. Funny how whenever that official definition is given, the next page is spent unpacking it. It’s thorough, but it’s a lot. Here’s a little run-down:
Recruitment: Two well-dressed men walk into several orphanages in the Republic of Karelia in northwestern Russia and say they want the institutions’ best and brightest girls to go to China and train to be chefs. After looking over a group of fourteen to seventeen year olds, they pick the thirty most likely candidates.
Coercion: Both the girls and staff know that once the girls reach eighteen, they’ll be abandoned to the streets. This is the best opportunity they’ve received.
Fraud/Deception: The girls are told that their education is paid for, but they’ll have to work for two years as waitresses.
Transportation: The girls are put on a bus, presumably to China. Instead, the bus goes south into Western Europe.
Harboring: The men take the girls to a rundown apartment in Germany.
Force: The girls are beaten and yelled at. Their captors refuse to give them food or water.
Giving unlawful payment: The girls are taken to the living room and told to disrobe in front of several thugs. The girls can’t understand the language, but they see the money transferred.
Transfer and receipt: The girls are split up into lots of three, four, and five, and told to go with specific men.
Receiving unlawful payment: The girls’ guardians take the money, wave them off, and disappear.
What happens next could be almost anything, but this is actually a true story, so we have an idea. The girls were distributed to various German brothels, where they were forced to have sex with up to ten men a day. A few escape, a few more were picked up in police raids. It was over six months before the orphanage caught word of what had happened.
What is not human trafficking? Human trafficking is not human smuggling. In human smuggling, clients pay coyotes directly for a service. Even if that service ends in theft or murder, it is still not human trafficking, because the coyotes were not paid for their clients’ person or labor by a third party. Is the practice of child brides human trafficking? Possibly. Traditionally, the point of a dowry was to give the bride a nest egg in case her husband died or divorced her. If, instead, a “bride price” is paid to the father, and the girl is married against her will, it could very well be human trafficking.
Sadly, there’s no way to give an overview of human trafficking without being overwhelming. It is a big problem, and getting bigger. Still, there is a lot we can do to help, and even just reading this and learning about it is a big step. It sounds like a cliché, but awareness really does make a difference. These statistics will probably not sink in the first time you hear them. That’s okay. Think about the single girl from Nepal, locked up in a brothel in India, or a single man, forced to work in a field for no pay. Give the information time to sink in, and you’ll have a better idea of how to help.
But numbers must be shared. Statistics must be given. And God will always be bigger.
New York City proper has over eight million people. LA has almost four million. Chicago has almost three million. Add those, then add the next ten most populated cities in the US, and you’ll get about 27 million people. That’s how many are caught in modern-day slavery across the world. Of course, hard data is understandably difficult to verify. It’s most likely more.
London has about 800,000 people living in the city proper. That’s about how many trafficked people are stripped of their IDs and official documents and moved across international borders every year.
Some estimate one million children are exploited by the global commercial sex trade every year. That’s about the same number of children as in the entire nation of Ireland. But UNICEF says 1.8 million children enter the global sex trade every year.
- Fifty percent of victims transported through countries are children.
- Eighty percent of victims transported through countries are women and girls.
- Seventy percent of female victims are forced to work in the sex industry; thirty percent in labor. Many of those in labor trafficking are sexually abused and raped.
- About 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the US every year. Of course, this is an under-reported statistic, and it’s been estimated at many times that number.
- 200,000 children minimum in the US are at risk for sexual exploitation.
$32 billion is made every year on human trafficking. The average victim will earn her trafficker $13,000 a year. At the high end, a victim could earn her trafficker $67,200 a year—a salary comparable to the DA who would stand against her were she picked up on prostitution charges.
Human trafficking is fighting with arms dealing for the number two organized crime position in the world. Before long, it will pass drugs and reach number one. Why? Higher profits for lower risk. If an “asset” becomes a liability, traffickers can just kill her, dump her, and find another. They generally can’t find $67,000 worth of drugs or arms on the streets, but they can find a person. And if direct kidnapping isn’t their style, they can buy someone for $20-$4000 depending on location.
How did it get so big? We weren’t watching. Part of the problem with discussing human trafficking is the tendency to pull away from it, disassociate from it. Sure it happens in Thailand or Africa, but it couldn’t happen here. Two-hundred-thousand children in the US say otherwise. Children who were loved at home, and children who were sold by their parents. And children that you or your kids go to school with. It may be the college student who rang your doorbell, trying to sell magazines. It may be your waitress. It may be your daughter’s friend. Accepting that may make you feel vulnerable, but it’s actually power. Power to fight trafficking and to protect others from being trafficked.
Next up: Labor Trafficking: From cell phones to coffee, much of what we use relies on human trafficking—including that one thing few of us can live without.
Human Trafficking the Series:
Women in Trafficking
Free the Captives
Human Trafficking and the Church
Victims of Trafficking
Links to check out:
Human Trafficking Task Force of Colorado
Fair Trade Federation
What to do if you suspect someone is being trafficked:
If the situation is urgent, call 911.
If there is no immediate threat, call the non-emergency number, often 311.
Call your local anti human trafficking organization.
Call the national hotline—1-888-3737-888.