Human Trafficking: Education and Raising Awareness

5 min read

| By Gale Staff |

“It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name—modern slavery.”

— President Barack Obama, September 25, 2012

A lot has happened in the 10 years since Barack Obama’s famous quote. And yet human trafficking continues to fly under the radar in our country. In the United States, we often associate human trafficking with places outside of our borders, under the misconception that it happens “anywhere but here.” Still, human trafficking does occur in the United States in almost every state, so it’s important to raise awareness around the topic now to help save some and protect others from becoming victims of this horrible crime in the future.

July 30 marks the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. The event was established by the United Nations to raise awareness of human trafficking and to promote and protect the rights of trafficked people. This year’s theme will put victims front and center by emphasizing the importance of listening to and learning from survivors as fighters against human trafficking.

What is human trafficking?

The United Nations defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.” There are 40.3 million victims globally, with hundreds of thousands of them in the United States alone, divided into three populations: 1

  • Children younger than age 18 drawn into commercial sex
  • Adults ages 18 and overdrawn into commercial sex through force, fraud, or coercion
  • Children and adults drawn into performing labor or other services through force, fraud, or coercion

According to the UN, traffickers often use violence or fraudulent employment agencies and fake promises of education and job opportunities to deceive and coerce their victims. Forced prostitution is one form of exploitation—and yes, talking about keeping our bodies safe is one discussion within this topic. However, forced labor in the agriculture and manufacturing industries, and particularly fast fashion, are other forms of exploitation.

Who is most vulnerable to human trafficking?2,3

While victims can be any type of person, of any age or background, traffickers do target people in vulnerable populations. Political instability, war, civil unrest, violence, and poverty all create favorable conditions for traffickers. The United States Department of Justice is quick to say there is no single profile of a trafficking victim, but they do point to certain vulnerable populations—American Indian/Alaska Native communities, LGBTQ individuals, individuals with disabilities, undocumented migrants, runaway and homeless youth, temporary guest workers and low-income individuals. Like their victims, human traffickers can be foreign nationals or U.S. citizens, family members or partners, acquaintances, or complete strangers. Not all traffickers are male—the United States has prosecuted women traffickers as well.

Globally, according to the United Nations, 50,000 human trafficking victims have been reported by 148 countries. Of those, 50 percent were trafficked for sexual exploitation, as opposed to 38 percent who were exploited for forced labor. Most targets of human trafficking are female—46 percent are women, and another 19 percent girls. Sadly, for every three victims, one is a child. The number of child victims has tripled, and the number of boys among them has increased fivefold.

The calculus of COVID-19 and human trafficking4

Over the past couple years, the presence of COVID-19 has introduced a new level of uncertainty into many people’s lives, leaving them more vulnerable than ever. Measures to curb the spread of the virus increased the risk of trafficking through major job loss, creating new opportunities for criminal networks to prey on those who are desperate. Lockdowns and limitations on antitrafficking services limited a means of escape or rescue for victims. During this time, there was also a marked increase in the number of children targeted by traffickers on social media and other online platforms.

How can we prevent these crimes in the future?

Identifying and supporting at-risk populations is one way. Learning to recognize the signs of trafficking is another. Body language can be very revealing. Often, victims appear to be monitored by another person when talking or interacting with others. Victims can also be tense or afraid and defer to another person without freely speaking or answering questions. Other telltale indicators include living conditions characterized by cramped spaces or a space maintained by their employer.

Speak up if you observe anything suspicious. Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888.373.7888 if you believe you have information on a trafficking situation or would like to report potential human trafficking. If there is immediate danger, call 911.

Gale In Context: Global Issues

One of the biggest ways to stop individuals from becoming victims of human trafficking is by building awareness through education. Gale In Context: Global Issues opens a window into the world of human trafficking, enabling students to analyze important global issues through a myriad of content, from topic overviews to international viewpoints, news, and multimedia content. You can also explore the Human Trafficking portal within Global Issues, including a main-level overview at two Lexile levels (5 and 4) to accommodate readers with different reading abilities.

Here’s a sample video from the portal to get you started:

1. National Human Trafficking Hotline, “The Victims,” accessed June 29, 2022.

2. U.S. Department of Justice, “What Is Human Trafficking?” updated October 13, 2020.

3. United Nations, “World Day Against Trafficking in Persons 30 July,” accessed June 29, 2022.

4. United Nations, “New UN Report Reveals Impact of COVID on Human Trafficking,” UN News, July 8, 2021.

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