Updated: Jan 15
Human trafficking may sound like something that is limited to third-world countries, or perhaps another century. But it is a global and present-day problem that is much more common than many people think. In fact, the International Labor Organization estimates that human trafficking and forced labor is a $150 billion industry worldwide.
Designating January as National Human Trafficking Awareness Month is intended to bring attention to this devastating crime, inform people about potential red flags and warning signs, and perhaps even save a victim's life.
What is Human Trafficking?
Human trafficking involves the illegal smuggling and trading of people and is a form of modern day slavery. Human traffickers use various forms of violence, threats, deception, and other manipulative tactics to prey on a victim's vulnerabilities in order to recruit and keep them in a trafficking situation. Trafficking situations most commonly include engaging in commercial sex acts against the victim's will, entering into forced marriage arrangements, or providing some sort of compulsory labor. Commercial sex work generally includes escort services, strip clubs, and pornography. Forced labor work typically involves domestic, agricultural, and restaurant work, as well as work on construction sites.
Scope of Human Trafficking
The full scope of human trafficking is still being studied, but it is estimated that the total number of global human trafficking victims is around 40.3 million. And although human trafficking spans regions, races, and genders, it disproportionately affects women and girls, who account for approximately 75% of victims worldwide. Additionally, 25% of victims are estimated to be children.
According to 2018 Statistics from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the top risk factors for human trafficking include:
recent migration or relocation, particularly involving low or unstable socio-economic situations;
runaway or homeless youth; and
mental health issues.
Methods Used by Human Traffickers
The methods of force, fraud, or coercion that are most commonly used by human traffickers against their victims include:
threats of any kind,
emotional abuse, and/or
Human Trafficking in the United States
In the United States, human trafficking cases have increased 25% since 2017, and most commonly occur around international travel-hubs with large immigrant populations, notably California, Florida, Georgia, New York, and Texas. Additionally, truck stops and rest stops along heavily populated highways are popular locations for sex traffickers to sell their victims.
Indicators of Human Trafficking
Recognizing potential indicators of human trafficking can help to identify victims and get them assistance. Below is a non-exhaustive list of possible signs that someone may be a victim of human trafficking:
Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
Has few or no personal possessions
Is frequently monitored
Is not in control of their own money, financial records, or bank account
Is not in control of their own identification documents (ID or passport)
Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)
Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where they are staying/address
Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
Appear to have lost sense of time
Shares scripted, confusing, or inconsistent stories
Human Trafficking and the Role of Financial Institutions
Due to the large sums of money it generates, human trafficking is one of the most profitable crimes in the world. Ultimately, such illicit gains need to be laundered if the traffickers want to remain undetected and continue their activity. Therefore, it is not surprising that human trafficking is a predicate crime to money laundering.
Financial institutions are in a unique position to disrupt human trafficking by identifying and reporting suspicious activity. Inevitably, human traffickers will turn to financial institutions to maintain a steady flow of cash. Financial institutions can help uncover these illicit proceeds by "following the money trail" and identifying funding sources. Detecting and combating human trafficking also includes establishing and maintaining an updated training program focused on awareness and identification of red flags. A robust anti-money laundering (AML) compliance program is one of the most effective tools in the fight against financial crime.
To learn to recognize more signs of human trafficking, click on the following link: https://humantraffickinghotline.org/human-trafficking/recognizing-signs.
To read about the Polaris Project and the work being done to help eradicate modern day slavery, visit the Polaris website at https://polarisproject.org/.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-373-7888.