Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery that exists in every country, including the United States

  • Women, children, and men work in factories, fields, restaurants, hotels, homes, and in every facet of the sex industry.
  • Today, illegal sale of humans is a multibillion-dollar industry tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world, surpassed only by drug trafficking. Moreover, it is the fastest growing criminal industry.
  • According to the U.S. Department of State, approximately 800,000 to 900,000 victims annually are trafficked across international borders worldwide. Between 18,000 and 20,000 of those victims are trafficked into the United States. The FBI reports that in the U.S. alone trafficking and slavery generate 9.5 billion dollars a year.
  • “Trafficking in women and girls has become one of the fastest growing enterprises in the world. The United Nations estimates that over two million women and girls are taken from their homeland into other countries under false pretenses for the purposes of forced labor, domestic servitude, or sexual exploitation. Trafficking and slavery are never ‘stand-alone crimes.’ They are linked to money laundering, drug trafficking, document forgery, human smuggling, rape, and torture.”

Corporate Stand

It is with this in mind that the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia took a corporate stand against human trafficking in 2003. This corporate stand is one concrete way for the congregation to “take the necessary risks to be a healing, compassionate presence in our violent world, especially with women, children, and those who have no voice.” [Commitment Statement, 1996] Read more.

If a global trafficking map were created with lines tracking the flow of persons trafficked from countries of origin to countries of destination, it would show hundreds of lines crisscrossing the globe on every continent. The following would be only a few of the tracking lines.

  • From Sub-Saharan countries to Spain and Western  Europe
  • From Nigeria to Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom; the Philippines to Australia, Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Japan, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Europe, the United States
  • From China to other Asian countries, Western Europe, Mexico, the United States
  • From the Russian Federation to Finland, France, Belgium, Greece, Asian countries, Israel, Australia, the United States Honduras to other Latin American countries and Canada.

Laws and protocols distinguish trafficking of persons occurring through coercion and exploitation from smuggling which refers to consensual transactions.  However, what begins as smuggling often becomes trafficking. This is the case of young girls who agree to be smuggled into another country lured by the promise of a better life, and then are forced into prostitution.

Why have human smuggling and trafficking grown and spread to such a great extent?

  • They need to be understood in the context of globalization and migration. “Since 1965, the number of international migrants has doubled to some 175 million persons at the turn of the millennium.  Prospects of a better life abroad, poverty, economic marginalization, political and social unrest, and conflict are all incentives to move.  In an increasingly interconnected world, movement is easier.” (“Trafficking, Smuggling, and Human Rights,” Migration Information Source, Jacqueline Bhabha, Harvard University, March 31, 2005)

Although there are multiple human rights concerns, it is the law enforcement imperative that has placed the issue higher on the international policy agenda.

  • As of December 3, 2005, the United States became an official party to the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its supplementary Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, and its Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea, and Air.
  • The convention represents the first legally binding multi-lateral instrument that specifically targets transnational organized crime.

How to identify victims of human trafficking

  • Victims of trafficking may look like many of the patients coming to health clinics or emergency rooms.  By looking beneath the surface and asking yourself these questions, you can help identify potential victims:
  • Does another person who seems controlling (possibly the trafficker) accompany the patient?
  • Can you detect any physical or psychological abuse?
  • Does the patient seem submissive or fearful?
  • Does the patient have difficulty communicating because of language or cultural barriers?
  • Does the patient have any identification?

Gaining the trust of a victim of human trafficking is an important first step in providing assistance.

Human trafficking red flags

  • Living with employer
  • Poor living conditions
  • Multiple people in cramped space
  • Inability to speak to individual alone
  • Identity documents held by employer
  • Signs of physical abuse
  • Submissive or fearful
  • Unpaid or paid very little
  • Under 18 and in prostitution

Where can victims of human trafficking be found?

  • Sex industry
  • Domestic situations (nannies or servants)
  • Sweatshop factories
  • Construction sites
  • Farm work
  • Fisheries
  • Hotel or tourist industries
  • Panhandling
  • Janitorial services
  • Restaurant services

Human Trafficking (Labor/Sex etc.) is one of the largest challenges that we as a global human community must face and address.  It is the third most profitable criminal activity behind Illegal drugs and arms.  Don’t be afraid to speak up.


Online Resources

Coalition Against Trafficking Women
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Polaris Project