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  • Madelyn Nessler

Human trafficking: The modern-day slavery

Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Globalization has undoubtedly facilitated the growth of businesses, technology, culture and communication as goods and services are exchanged almost thoughtlessly around the world. Essentially, globalization has opened the door to higher standards of living by aiding in the development of underdeveloped countries, encouraging free trade among nations and lowering prices for goods and commodities. However, while globalization has eased the lives of many by encouraging cooperation and efficiency, it has nevertheless facilitated an unforgivingly criminal activity: human trafficking.


Human trafficking, a form of modern-day slavery, is defined as involving the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Human trafficking is a global problem, as globalization allows criminal organizations to expand their networks and create transnational routes for the purpose of transporting human beings.


Human trafficking is an expansive web of interconnecting criminals working to detain, transfer and exploit victims. The business of human trafficking is estimated to be a startling $32 billion industry. This highly lucrative form of modern-day slavery is increasingly referred to as organized crime due to the level of planning, communication and intelligence that goes into transporting large numbers of people, often over substantial distances.


Just as the majority of people enslaved in the New World came from West Central Africa, human trafficking usually originates in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as southeast Asia and eastern Europe. Traffickers often target migrants, especially women and children, who tend to come from poor and vulnerable backgrounds, thereby making it easier to force or trick them into exploitation.


The International Labor Organization estimated that there were “49.6 million people living in modern slavery in 2021, of which 27.6 million were in forced labour and 22 million in forced marriage.” Furthermore, almost 5 million of those in forced commercial sexual exploitation are women and girls, and “12% of all those in forced labour are children.” Forced prostitution, a long withstanding form of slavery, is a dominant component of modern-day slavery where victims, both adults and children, are thrust into pornography, child-sex rings and other sex-related jobs.


Although most victims leave their homelands voluntarily, few are aware that they are being recruited for a trafficking scheme. Modern slavery is marked by ownership, dominion and socio-cultural isolation. Upon arrival, traffickers often indoctrinate victims through “grooming.” Grooming is when traffickers manipulate reality for victims by gaining their trust and meeting their basic needs. However, traffickers then take advantage of the newly built trust by isolating and exploiting their victims. Ultimately, traffickers use tactics such as beating, gang rapes, torture, opium and brainwashing. Additionally, traffickers may deprive their victims of basic human needs, including acceptance, trust in others and a sense of control, to dissociate or “break” them from their old life. These victims’ new purpose is to fulfill the wants and needs of their trafficker, leaving many trafficked women especially to hold long-term slave-like relationships with their traffickers.


Efforts to curb human trafficking did not begin until the mid 1990s when awareness of the issue began hitting news stations. In 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the first form of anti-trafficking legislation, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). The legislature enacted the TVPA to encourage international preventative action and to assist foreign countries in drafting anti-trafficking legislation. The TVPA employs a three-step strategy: prosecution, protection and prevention involving several federal agencies and local police.


Additionally in 2000, the United Nations established the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which works to promote cooperation among nations to stop international trafficking.


While the legislature has taken important steps to enact policy that works to break down the highly structured organized crime of modern-day slavery, there are still necessary steps that must be taken. Modern-day slavery is a niche topic that often goes unreported in news and is not well-known among average citizens. Awareness of the issue must be at the top of the response plan. Along with awareness is the importance of research, specifically focused on the purpose, methods and consequences of traffickers’ actions. Identifying how prosecutors can target the ringleaders of a trafficking scheme is paramount to breaking down the structure of human trafficking. Lastly, practitioners should continue to advocate for stricter and stronger legislation that protects victims.

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