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Current Human Trafficking Issues in the United States

Updated on September 26, 2011

Human trafficking, also referred to as trafficking in persons, is the third largest and fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. Disgusting, isn't it?

Human trafficking is a modern day form of slavery that involves the deprivation of liberty of a person in order to exploit them through labor services and/or the commercial sex trade.

When most Americans think about human trafficking (if they think about it at all) they think about the offense in terms of how it affects people in other countries.

The majority of Americans do not realize that human trafficking is becoming a big enough issue to warrant a heightening of public awareness about the crime.

Federal Definition of Human Trafficking

For the purpose of criminal prosecution, the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) defines the crime of human trafficking as having the following elements:

Trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or receiving (or attempting to do so) of a person by means of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of commercial sex acts, involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

The one exception to this rule is the following:

Force, fraud and coercion are not required to show trafficking of a minor for commercial sex acts.

Human Smuggling
Human Smuggling

The Difference Between Human Trafficking and Human Smuggling

Human trafficking and human smuggling are two closely linked crimes, and as such, they are sometimes confused for one another.

Human smuggling usually occurs with the full consent of the person being smuggled; in fact, these people have often paid large sums of money in order to be smuggled.

While human trafficking may have some elements of human smuggling, the distinguishing factor is that trafficking specifically targets the trafficked person as an object of some form of criminal exploitation.

Traffickers may be individuals, families, or organized groups of criminals. Traffickers are often a benefactor to other “indirect” third parties such as retail companies, advertisers, distributors, and consumers – which very well may include any one of us.

Human Trafficking: Who are the Victims?

Victims of human trafficking are most often members of the most marginalized groups of society.

Migrants, runaways, displaced persons, oppressed groups, and women and children-most especially those who live in abject poverty, are frequent targets of traffickers.

In countries like Cambodia and Thailand, parents of children living in extreme impoverished conditions are so desperate for money that they will sometimes “rent” the sexual services of their own children.

Besides being morally repugnant, this atrocity should be particularly offensive because many of the patrons are American.

An Update on Children for Sale & Purchased By U.S. Citizens

U.S. Citizens Funding the Child Sex Trade Abroad - Profile: Dr. Jerry Albom

A sub rosa investigation completed by MSNBC’s Chris Hansen uncovered American men who had traveled to Pnam Penh in order to pay for sex with minors. One person stood out from the rest.

His name is Jerry Albom, and he is a well-respected Oklahoma physician.An undercover investigator played the role of a man interested in having sexual relations with children; in this role, the investigator approached Dr. Albom and quizzed him about how to rent a child for sex.

Dr. Albom gave the investigator detailed information, and even bragged about how he had recently rented a twelve-year-old girl for the equivalent of fifty U.S. dollars for a 48-hour period.

When he got back to the United States, U.S. law enforcement officials were most eager to talk to him...

Apparently, the good doctor had been making these trips for the past ten years. Sadly, this type of horrific crime is rampant in Cambodia.

In fact, the undercover investigators were literally inundated with sex peddlers who tried to “sell their wares” at almost every corner—the peddlers themselves victims, were often young boys (6-8) who offered sexual services of girls as young as five years of age—this claim was proven when cameras followed one peddler back to his "base of operation."

At face value, it sounds disturbing, but it is even more unsettling that this type of criminal activity flourishes in large part due to the financial contributions of U.S. citizens.

President George Bush Signs the TVPA

More recently, Cuba has replaced Asian nations as a prime destination for American citizens who travel abroad looking for sex with children.

According to Freedom House, Cuba is one of the worst violators of human rights in the world.According to Fidel Castro, “Cuba has the cleanest and most educated prostitutes in the world”.

Castro made the statement because sex tourism is a thriving source of income that helps to keep his alleged corrupt regime afloat.

In 2003, in response to a large influx of American citizens visiting Cuba to participate in sex tourism, President George W. Bush signed the Protect Act.

President George W. Bush Signs the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA)
President George W. Bush Signs the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA)

Human Trafficking Incidents:

  • In New York City male members of the Flores-Carreto family romantically lured young Mexican women to the U.S. Once inside the U.S. they were forced into prostitution.
  • Fifty-five deaf and mute Mexican nationals and nine homeless U.S. citizens were forced to work 15-hour days selling trinkets and soliciting donations for a phony charity.
  • Uzbeki women were lured to Texas by a researcher and his wife then forced to strip in nightclubs.
  • Twelve girls from Guatemala to were brought into Los Angeles and forced to work as prostitutes.
  • In Ft. Worth, Texas, law enforcement officials are clamping down on what they claim is an infestation.Officers stated that a person can buy a Mexican child for $90 and work them as slaves. Some end up having sex with different men every 15 minutes while others are purchased to work on farms or restaurants with little or no pay.
  • A Florida labor contractor was arrested for purchasing smuggled victims for $1,100 each.He then imposed that fee on the workers and forced them to pay off the debt, paid them $80 for a 60 hours week, then charged them $65 week for living expenses.
  • An Arizona man was sentenced to five years in prison because he had essentially bought and sold the sexual services of a handicapped 17-year-old girl for crack.
  • Up to 18 women in New Jersey were forced to work in hair braiding salons.They were told that they would be returned to Africa if they objected to working without pay.
  • Reports of teenagers in Bangladesh working 80 hours per week at $0.14 per hour, for a Wal-Mart supplier, Beximco. A Guatemalan woman named Wendy Diaz reported that she had been working for Wal-Mart at $0.30 per hour at age 13.
  • Nike, Inc. has been criticized for sweatshop activities, documented minimum wage violations, severely poor working conditions and exploitation of cheap labor in several of its factories abroad.
  • In an abandoned limestone mine in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, hundreds of workers pick mushrooms in the dark.Creekside Mushrooms hired 20 legal guest workers from Thailand through a California company called Global Horizons.Under the contract, Creekside paid Global but soon discovered that Global neglected to pay the workers for months at a time. Some nights, the men had to go fishing after work just to feed themselves.
  • In Grand Forks, North Dakota, a former co-owner of a Chinese restaurant obtained illegal aliens as employees.He paid them a low salary made even lower by deductions for food, rent, and fees paid to the smugglers.

The TVPA Helps Bring Dr. Albom to Justice (U.S. Jail for U.S. Citizens Caught Funding the Sex Trade in Other Countries)

The president stated, “We have put a strategy in place to hasten the day when no Cuban child is exploited to finance a failed revolution and every Cuban citizen will live in freedom.”

The Protect Act allows U.S. law enforcement to prosecute Americans who travel abroad to engage in sex with minors without having to prove intent.

Before 2003, a criminal case could not be made without the establishment of intent.Criminals are well aware of how to get around laws that might foil their activities.

In fact, when the aforementioned Dr. Albom was confronted with his misdeeds he smugly stated, on camera, that he was not guilty of any crime because he had not intended on going to Cambodia for sex with a minor –“it just happened.”

Dr. Albom was caught and punished for his crime solely because the Protect Act was signed into law just hours before he left to go to Cambodia.

Forced Labor and Forced Prostitution, Right Here on U.S. Soil

Here in the United States, human trafficking may take on many forms.

Besides the sex industry, the crime includes cases of forced labor in factories, restaurants, agricultural work, and even hair salons.

Women from African nations have been sold into African hair braiding rings where they are forced to work ungodly hours, for little or no pay, and they are virtually held captive by their “employers.”

It is common knowledge that some foreign women enter the United States in positions of domestic servitude as housekeepers, nannies and mail-order brides.

But, some of these women are forced into their positions and sold to their employers and future husbands like any other “possession” one can purchase.

In the National Security Strategy issued by the White House in 2006, human trafficking is listed as a national security risk.

According to the United Nations, approximately 800,000 people are coerced or forced into crossing international borders each year.

Half of those people are children, 80% are female and 66% are sexually exploited; The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) estimates that 20,000 of these victims end up in the United States every year.

It is an unquestionable threat to the integrity of U.S. borders when these types of criminal organizations infiltrate the country, whether they traffic in narcotics, guns or human beings.

In Conclusion:

Human trafficking in the sex and labor industries is prevalent in all regions of the United States. Victims are smuggled in and trafficked by crime rings connected to vast networks. The victims traditionally come from Southeast Asia and Latin America.

Trafficking to the United States is likely to increase due to weak economies and few job opportunities in historic countries of origin.Although legislation such as The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 and The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2003, have imposed more stringent laws on traffickers, low risk of prosecution compared to enormous profit potential for traffickers and vastly improved international transportation infrastructures will continue to spur financial greed at the price of human debasement.

Though it may be impossible to abolish trafficking to the United States, it is possible to diminish the problem significantly by raising public awareness, strengthening the penalties and laws against traffickers; and enhancing assistance and protection programs for the victims.

In countries like Cambodia, human trafficking is much harder to eradicate because it is often coupled with government corruption, and the crime serves as a rampant, resistant infestation on the community some sixteen times greater than that which we experience here in the United States.

Americans should band together to put more pressure on such countries because we cannot allow our citizens to fuel the trade, and we cannot justifiably claim to be a moral nation if we stand by and allow gross maltreatment of human beings.

Most importantly, if we do not do more to stamp out human trafficking in historic countries of origin, we will certainly have to contend with more human trafficking on U.S. soil. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.To be sure, we cannot annihilate injustice everywhere but we must never cease to try.

What You Can Do About Human Trafficking?

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    • Rachelle Williams profile imageAUTHOR

      Rachelle Williams 

      22 months ago from Tempe, AZ

      I never thought about this - you have a good point.

    • TheShadowSpecter profile image

      Jason B Truth 

      22 months ago from United States of America

      Well, I really think that we fairly defeat the purpose of fighting human trafficking when we allow sexual slavery to exist in our correctional facilities throughout the United States. Everywhere on YouTube, there are videos of convicts bragging in interviews on how they raped their inmates while serving time or how someone became their prison wife.

    • poetryman6969 profile image

      poetryman6969 

      3 years ago

      I would like to see an emphasis on reducing violence against third world women. I think the UN and every nation should be working to stop:

      1) Female genital mutilation

      2) Punishing rape victims

      3) Honor killing

      4) Strapping bombs to children

      5) Sexually enslaving women

      6) Murdering homosexuals

      7) Child marriage

      8) Domestic Violence

      9) Disciplining or Punishing Wives

    • profile image

      mindingmybusiness 

      5 years ago

      And it also happens to people who are born and raised here.

      Seatle (sp?), Washington is one of many cities in the U.S.A. that has a division of there police department specifically allocated to this type of criminal activity.

      Nice overview for the length. Good sources. Would like to have seen more depth but know this outlet is limited.

      Thanks for writing it and making people more aware.

    • profile image

      LikaMarie 

      6 years ago

      And it seems that many Americans think that Human Trafficking only happens in other countries. It's very active here, also. It's sad when because some of our very own are wealthy enough to pay for others, and because they're looked at as an adoptee or as hired help, that they were somehow saved from third world countries, when in fact, the parents of these girls or children in general think they're getting adopted to a "rich American" to have a better life.

    • inaniLoquence profile image

      inaniLoquence 

      7 years ago from Singapore

      Human trafficking is a very real issue that we are currently facing and it is a constant Damocles' sword on our heads everywhere we go, being reminded that we could be the next target. Great hub! :)

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