Myths of Trafficking

There are some misconceptions about what human trafficking, and what the fight against human trafficking, looks like. We talked to one of our undercover investigators about one of them. There is also the somewhat pervasive idea that perhaps only women and girls are trafficked for sex . And while sex trafficking has gained awareness in the public consciousness, child marriage also makes up a significant portion of those trafficked worldwide.

The UN agency International Office for Migration has a lot of resources to educate people about trafficking and safe migration. We found this video series on the Myths of Trafficking to be particularly helpful in debunking some common misconceptions of what trafficking looks like.

MYTH# 1 Trafficking for sexual exploitation only happens to girls and women

MYTH # 2 Victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation are usually kidnapped

MYTH #3 Victims are usually physically trapped in situations of exploitation.

MYTH #4 If individuals are not being physically forced, then they must be there by choice.

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Causes of Trafficking

In today’s modern world, the term slavery generally brings to mind impressions of an archaic past. The word itself, rightfully loaded with tones of suffering and pain, strikes distant memories of settlers, western colonization, or visualizations of even older eras when slavery was simply the norm. People often equate the idea of slavery with Atlantic slave ships and shackled, kidnapped people. These horrific images of captivity were real. This happened. And it’s important to remember that these cruelties occurred not that long ago. But it’s also salient to note that slavery still exists today. Although enslavement might look different in a modern context, slavery continues.

But how does this happen? What causes human trafficking?

Modern slavery is the result of a complex combination of social, economic, and often cultural factors that result in the entrapment of people. The U.S. Department of State says that:

Modern slavery can appear in the form of sex trafficking, child exploitation, unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers, forced labor, domestic servitude, bonded labor, or debt bondage.

Last year, the world was shocked to discover that hundreds of people were being auctioned as slaves in Libya. This was a devastating reminder that even the most deplorable forms of slavery persist, reflecting even a darker historic period of bondage.

Modern slavery occurs due to a range of interconnected causes. Although there’s a complex scope of factors that contribute to modern day slavery, two underlying variables keeps the industry’s heart pumping — the traffickers themselves and the demand that motivates them.

Human trafficking is a global industry that circulates billions of dollars in profits each year. It could be argued that the main factor that drives slavery to exist today is those who are willing to exploit and enslave other human beings. Understanding the problem with demand could be the most crucial component in deteriorating the prevalence of slavery. This demand for modern slavery only exists due to a billion-dollar incentive that produces the need for traffickers. The market endorses slavery through consumption, and individuals financially enable traffickers to continue their dark trade. Ultimately, the thousands of buyers or industries with a demand for cheap labor around the world are the base purpose driving traffickers to seek out their victims.

But it’s still not that simple. Other contributing elements exacerbate the problem. Traffickers prey on the most vulnerable of people. Marginalized groups are easy targets due to harrowing life circumstances. Perpetrators seek out those who are marginalized for a number of reasons. They often prey on those whose lives have been torn apart by war, natural disasters, or economic desperations. They search for those or more easily come in contact with those who can be easily coerced into taking jobs that could then easily devolve into human trafficking. Victims routinely come from backgrounds of persecution, conflict, or other forms of marginalization.

The reality is that when victims don’t have the capacity to provide for themselves and their families, crime syndicates and operators could take advantage of their plight and force them into trafficking.

While the UN recognizes that the refugee crisis, conflict, and poverty all play roles in causing slavery today, some societies have built-in cultural characteristics that can increase the probability of trafficking of individuals. Societies that devalue women, certain ethnic groups or the LGTBQ community, can raise the probability of people being made vulnerable and susceptible to being targeted. It’s clear that women are frequently singled out due to the demand in the sex industry. Of course, men and boys are also trafficked, but women and girls are statistically sought out more often. According to the International Labour Organization, “women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labor, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors.”

It’s true, the modern world is unrecognizable compared to the period of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Advanced technology has improved our medicine and life expectancy. There is overall consensus that we should protect universal human rights, and, according to many experts, violence has statistically declined. But in a world where an estimated 40.3 million people are in modern slavery, there is still outrage. We won’t settle for anything less than justice. Our collective LIFT team has expertise with investigations, aftercare and legal support, so that is what we focus on. Demand-side efforts and advocacy are a huge part of the solution. Partnership is crucial to address the root causes and reality of the after effects of trafficking in the lives of individuals all at once. We join many other organizations and advocates who still endeavor to combat slavery whenever, and wherever, it’s found.

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Definitions of Trafficking

LIFT International was founded to strategically address - through investigations, aftercare and legal support - the crime of sex trafficking. Within that scope, our teams have been referred to diverse cases of exploitation. We have worked on cases of debt bondage of Ugandan women brought to Bangkok and sold for sex to pay off their debts. We have helped law enforcement to remove children trafficked for sex in brothels, karaoke bars, and online. We identified children being forced to beg that had been trafficked. We also saw a case of a woman trafficked for sex and labor on a farm simultaneously. The lives of victims of trafficking don’t always fall under strict definitions. However, it does help to understand various legal categories of trafficking so that we can identify and stop them. Laws must be strengthened, law enforcement must be trained and technologies must be deployed to bring freedom through justice for victims of all forms of trafficking and exploitation.

These definitions are taken straight from the 2018 U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report:

Sex Trafficking

When an adult engages in a commercial sex act, such as prostitution, as the result of force, threats of force, fraud, coercion, or any combination of such means, that person is a victim of trafficking. Under such circumstances, perpetrators involved in recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for that purpose are guilty of sex trafficking of an adult. Sex trafficking also may occur through a specific form of coercion whereby individuals are compelled to continue in prostitution through the use of unlawful “debt,” purportedly incurred through their transportation, recruitment, or even their “sale”—which exploiters insist they must pay off before they can be free. Even if an adult initially consents to engage in commercial sex, it is irrelevant: if an adult, after consenting, is subsequently held in service through psychological manipulation or physical force, he or she is a trafficking victim and should receive benefits outlined in the Palermo Protocol and applicable domestic laws.

Child Sex Trafficking

When a child (under 18 years of age) is recruited, harbored, transported, provided, obtained, patronized, or solicited for the purpose of a commercial sex act, proving force, fraud, or coercion is not necessary for the offense to be prosecuted as human trafficking. There are no exceptions to this rule: no cultural or socioeconomic rationalizations alter the fact that children who are exploited in prostitution are trafficking victims. The use of children in the commercial sex industry is prohibited under U.S. law and by statute in most countries around the world. Sex trafficking has devastating consequences for children, including long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease (including HIV/AIDS), drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, and even death.

Forced Labor

Forced labor, sometimes also referred to as labor trafficking, encompasses the range of activities—recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining—involved when a person uses force or physical threats, psychological coercion, abuse of the legal process, deception, or other coercive means to compel someone to work. Once a person’s labor is obtained by such means, the person’s prior consent to work for an employer is legally irrelevant: the employer is a trafficker and the employee a trafficking victim. Migrants are particularly vulnerable to this form of human trafficking, but individuals also may be forced into labor in their own countries. Female victims of forced or bonded labor, especially women and girls in domestic servitude, are often sexually abused or exploited as well.

Bonded Labor or Debt Bondage

One form of coercion used by traffickers in both sex trafficking and forced labor is the imposition of a bond or debt. Some workers inherit debt; for example, in South Asia it is estimated that there are millions of trafficking victims working to pay off their ancestors’ debts. Others fall victim to traffickers or recruiters who unlawfully exploit an initial debt assumed, wittingly or unwittingly, as a term of employment.

Traffickers, labor agencies, recruiters, and employers in both the country of origin and the destination country can contribute to debt bondage by charging workers recruitment fees and exorbitant interest rates, making it difficult, if not impossible, to pay off the debt. Such circumstances may occur in the context of employment-based temporary work programs in which a worker’s legal status in the destination country is tied to the employer so workers fear seeking redress.

Domestic Servitude

Involuntary domestic servitude is a form of human trafficking found in distinct circumstances—work in a private residence—that create unique vulnerabilities for victims. It is a crime in which a domestic worker is not free to leave his or her employment and is abused and underpaid, if paid at all. Many domestic workers do not receive the basic benefits and protections commonly extended to other groups of workers—things as simple as a day off. Moreover, their ability to move freely is often limited, and employment in private homes increases their isolation and vulnerability. Labor officials generally do not have the authority to inspect employment conditions in private homes. Domestic workers, especially women, confront various forms of abuse, harassment, and exploitation, including sexual and gender-based violence.

Forced Child Labor

Although children may legally engage in certain forms of work, children can also be found in slavery or slavery-like situations. Some indicators of forced labor of a child include situations in which the child appears to be in the custody of a non-family member who requires the child to perform work that financially benefits someone outside the child’s family and does not offer the child the option of leaving, such as forced begging. Anti-trafficking responses should supplement, not replace, traditional actions against child labor, such as remediation and education. When children are enslaved, their exploiters should not escape criminal punishment—something that occurs when governments exclusively use administrative responses to address cases of forced child labor.

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