When many people hear the word “slavery,” they typically picture Southern plantations, in the time before the Civil War. They don’t think about modern times or the fact that there might be someone who’s enslaved living on their block or in their neighborhood. But, trafficking is more common than many people like to think. It is a modern form of slavery, during which people are taken from their homes and denied their freedom and rights.

What is Trafficking?

The simplest way to define tracking is as a modern form of slavery, according to the ACLU. Obviously, the tactics used by traffickers today are different from the tactics used by slave traders centuries ago, but only very slightly.

Illegal immigration and human trafficking often go hand in hand. Usually, a person who ends up a victim of trafficking is someone who wants to leave his or her country and start a new and better life elsewhere. Human trafficking immigration involves promising that person that a great opportunity exists in another place and that the trafficker will help that person.

Of course, the opposite is usually the case — there’s no “opportunity” with immigrant trafficking. The victim of trafficking often ends up in a situation that in many times worse than what he or she was experiencing before.

What Are the Different Types of Trafficking?

Human trafficking can take several forms, depending on what the enslavers compel or force the trafficked or enslaved person to do. A few different types of trafficking include:

  • Sex Trafficking. Sex trafficking might be the most well-known type of human trafficking. Victims of it are forced or coerced into performing commercial sex acts (such as prostitution), according to SAAS. The vast majority of victims of the sex traffick trade are women and children. About 1 million children are victims of the sex trade each year.  
  • Forced Marriage. Forced marriage is a subtype of sex trafficking. It usually affects children, particularly girls, who are compelled to marry someone, either by their parents or a religious leader. It’s estimated that around 50 million girls under the age of 15 will be forced to marry by the year 2020.
  • Forced Labor. Forcing people to perform work or labor against their will is the most common type of trafficking. Forced labor can also occur without trafficking. For example, governments in certain countries will enslave people and compel them to work in fields or doing other forms of strenuous, manual labor, without pay or a chance for a reprieve. Forced labor can include farm work, domestic work, working in a factory or sweatshop, or mining.
  • Debt Bondage. Debt bondage is a form of forced labor. The main difference is that a person who’s engaged in debt bondage believes that he or she is working to pay off a debt — such as the cost of a ticket to a new country or the cost of room and board in that country. It’s similar to indentured servitude, but with one fundamental difference. The person forced to work in debt bondage often has no say over how much he or she owes. It’s also very likely that the “debt” the person owes will never be repaid, no matter how much he or she works.
  • Organ Trafficking. Organ trafficking involves capturing and enslaving people to harvest their organs illegally, usually the kidneys. The organs are then sold on the black market for transplantation. Although people are allowed to donate their organs for transplantation, the actual sale of those organs is banned by most global health organizations.
  • Child Soldiers. Children, sometimes as young as age 8, are occasionally captured and forced to become soldiers in war-torn countries. In some cases, the child’s parents might sell or compel their children to become soldiers, if the family is in desperate need of money.

A Different Type of Trafficking: Drug Trafficking

Drug trafficking is the manufacture, distribution, and sale of illicit substances, such as cocaine and heroin. According to History.com, drug trafficking in the US dates back to the 1800s, when immigrants from China brought along opium. Today, drug trafficking includes the distribution of heroin from areas in the Middle East and Asia as well as the distribution of cocaine from Mexico and Central and South American countries.

It might be easy to blame the people who are bringing the drugs into the US for the problem, but it’s more complicated than that. As the New York Times notes, there is a demand for illegal or illicit drugs in the US and that demand is fueling the drug trade. It’s also in some ways fueling illegal immigration.

While drug trafficking doesn’t involve the sale or coercion of people, it often goes together with human trafficking. Illegal immigration drug trafficking often consists of the use of people who want to move to a new country and who agree or are forced to agree to transport drugs on their way there.

Very often, it’s children who are victims of the drug trade. These children are forced to swallow latex packages full of drugs, which they then pass once they reach their destinations. They’re known as “drug mules,” since they transport the drugs from one country to another.

There’s a real risk involved in acting as a drug mule. Sometimes, the packages burst or leak, putting a person’s life at risk. The drugs can also be detected by CT or other imaging machines.

Who is Affected by Trafficking?

The very secretive nature of human trafficking makes it difficult to state with any certainty just how many people are affected by it each year, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.  

The ACLU estimates that about 2.4 million of the 12.3 million people who work in forced labor are victims of trafficking and that as many as 17,500 people are trafficked into the US each year. Those numbers don’t include victims of the practice who already lived in the US.

Often, the victims of trafficking fit a particular profile. The average age of a victim is 20. She is usually a woman, typically has a low level of education and often comes from a part of the world where poverty is rampant.

Victims who are trafficked within the US are typically immigrants to the country who might not have a firm grasp of the English language. Immigrants who come to the US without official documentation are the most susceptible to being victims of trafficking because they usually have insufficient employment opportunities and often end up working in jobs that are under the radar.

How Traffickers Take Advantage of Their Victims

Traffickers use several techniques to take advantage of their victims, particularly young, under-age victims. One of the main tactics traffickers use is manipulation and fear. This is particularly the case when a person is a victim of sex trafficking.

A trafficker might tell a young girl or woman who’s been forced into prostitution that he has evidence of her engaging in particular acts and that he’ll show that proof to her family (causing her significant shame or even ostracization) if she tries to escape or get help.

Another common tactic is to tell the victim that she will get in trouble if she escapes and that the US authorities will throw her in jail or otherwise harm her.

Traffickers also use physical tactics to control or take advantage of their victims. They might beat their victims or rape them. In some cases, the traffickers can control the victim’s movements by taking away passports or other forms of identification.

What Can Be Done to Stop Trafficking

Stopping human trafficking can seem like an uphill battle or like a challenge that can’t be won. But there are ways that people can help, from raising awareness of the existence of the practice to supporting organizations that support victims.

Knowing the signs of trafficking can also help save those who might be victims of it. For example, the State Department has a list of indicators that can often signal that a person has been trafficked.

Another thing people can do to take action against forced labor and trafficking is to pay attention to where the items they buy came from and how those items were produced. Some trafficked victims end up being forced to work in fields or factories, meaning they could have picked or made the items you find in your home.

What Happens to Trafficking Victims?

Trafficking victims usually aren’t treated as perpetrators of a crime, even if they did immigrate to a country without the needed documents. In fact, the US has two visas explicitly designed for victims of human trafficking. The visas offer some protection to the victims and allow them to remain in the US.

The challenge, of course, is finding the victims of trafficking and getting them help and support they need to rebuild their lives.

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