When people think about human trafficking, they often imagine the scenario in the major feature film Taken, where a young girl is abducted on a trip to Europe and subsequently exploited for sexual situations with paying customers.
While there are certainly real elements of human trafficking present in the film, the truth is much more complex and multi-faceted. In reality, there are many different types of trafficking, with each varying in how one can be exploited.
According to the United Nations, human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of people through force, fraud, or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit.
The most well-known form of human trafficking pertains to different forms of sexual exploitation, including forcing an individual to engage in commercial sex acts such as prostitution or the production of pornography.
Forced labor occurs when individuals are compelled against their will to provide work or service through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. In 2016, it was estimated by ILO that 24.9 million people around the globe were in forced labor.
Traffickers do not discriminate when it comes to forced labor: victims can be any age, race, religious affiliation, gender identity, nationality or socioeconomic group. Certain risk factors do create a greater likelihood that an individual would be labor trafficked, such as an unstable immigration status, language barriers in each country, poverty, lack of social support, or suffering from trauma.
The top five types of forced labor industries include:
Agricultural – Harvesting crops, raising and feeding animals, or packing plants, orchards and nurseries
Domestic work – Cleaning, cooking, child and elderly care, gardening, or other forms of labor in the home.
Factories – Working in any factory setting for any industry utilizing mass production
Nightclubs and bars – Performing for patrons (may also include sexual exploitative acts)
Hospitality – Working in casinos or hotels in often extreme or unsafe tasks with little protection and compensation
Also known as bonded labor, debt bondage occurs when an individual gives themselves into slavery as security against a loan or when they inherit a debt from a relative. It will often look like an employment agreement, but one where the worker eventually finds repayment of the loan to be impossible, resulting in permanent enslavement. Migrant laborers are particularly vulnerable to this form of enslavement while searching for economic opportunity in a new country.
Involuntary domestic servitude occurs in private residences, where domestic workers are not free to leave their employment and are often abused and underpaid (if paid at all). They do not receive basic benefits and protections, such as time off, and can be limited to movement solely within the residence. Labor officials have difficulty inspecting employment conditions in private homes, and these workers can face abuse, harassment, and exploitation.
While not as prevalent as sex and labor trafficking, organ removal is a widespread and universally condemned violation. Many victims are killed or left for dead once one or more organs has been removed. This black market thrives in the trade of bones, blood, and other body tissues – with as many as 7,000 kidneys illegally obtained by traffickers every year.
The individuals involved with organ removal consist of four populations:
Desperate patients willing to travel great distances and face considerable insecurity to obtain transplants
Equally desperate organ sellers
Outlaw surgeons willing to break the law
Organ brokers and other intermediaries
Many people have likely encountered situations in public where small children are begging for money on the street. While not always evident, a great number of these children are coerced into their situation by traffickers through intimidation or threats. It is one of the most widespread forms of trafficking, as well one of the most visible, with exploited children being out in plain sight as pedestrians walk by.
The use of child soldiers can be a form of human trafficking when involving unlawful recruitment. Generally, the perpetrators can be governmental forces, paramilitary organizations, or rebel groups. Many of the children are forced to be porters, cooks, guards, servants, messengers, or spies. It can be difficult for these children to leave these situations due to driving forces such as hunger, poverty, or protection from other forces in violent regions.
While marriage is the legal or formal recognition of the union of two consenting people in a personal relationship, forced marriage is when one individual does not consent. This force can happen as a result of threats, pressure, or coercion. It is labeled as human trafficking because it is considered involuntary servitude.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 defines involuntary servitude as a “condition of servitude induced by means of any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that, if the person did not enter into or continue in such condition, that person or another person would suffer serious harm or physical restraint; or the abuse or threatened abuse of the legal process.”
Prior to forced marriage being classified as a form of human trafficking, the United Nations considered it a form of slavery.
There are a few misconceptions regarding what constitutes as human trafficking, as the following crimes often coincide alongside human trafficking:
While human trafficking involves the exploitation of an individual, human smuggling involves the provision of a service to an individual who voluntarily seeks to gain illegal entry into a foreign country. The crime may start out as human smuggling and eventually escalate to trafficking, though on its own, it is not considered human trafficking.
Similarly, while some trafficked individuals may be missing, not all missing individuals are necessarily trafficked. There are various reasons why a person could be missing that are often unrelated to trafficking, such as addiction. Despite this, runaway and missing children are highly at-risk of being trafficked. It is estimated that of the children reported missing to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in 2021, who had run from the care of child welfare, 19% were likely victims of child sex trafficking.
Kidnapping refers to an individual being taken illegally against their will, usually for a ransom. There is. misconception that traffickers will "snatch" victims off the street, but this is not usually the case. The majority of trafficked victims are not kidnapped, but often groomed by people that they already know, often while maintaining their day-to-day life in between being trafficked.
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