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Human trafficking is modern-day slavery

POSTED February 1, 2012 9:22 a.m.
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Human trafficking is the legal, technical term used to describe modern day slavery. It is among the worst crimes and forms of torture perpetrated on its victims. The slavery, or servitude, is brought about by coercion, force, fear or fraud. While this crime does not receive the widespread attention it deserves, it is one of the largest and fastest-growing criminal enterprises in the world. It generates billions of dollars of profit every year in this country alone.

Women and children represent an estimated 80 percent of the nearly one million people who are enslaved for various reasons worldwide. These victims are compelled to perform labor (they are the "lucky" ones), while others are forced into the sex worker industry. Children are often used for child pornography and sex with adults, as is also the case for women. Adult males are also victims of the human trafficking industry, where they are likely used as drug runners, to carry out other crimes, and they are also used for forced labor.

Victims of human trafficking are often imported from one country to another. In the United States, it is estimated at some 17,000 victims are enslaved from within our borders: undocumented foreign nationals, persons living in very poor conditions, and yet others who are lured into what they think are legitimate jobs, only to find out that they have been captured and unable to get out of the situation. The criminals in human trafficking use such control techniques as threatening harm to the victim's family members if they do not cooperate. Once a victim commits a crime on behalf of their captors, they are threatened with being reported to the police. Persons without legal citizenship status remain in slavery out of fear of being turned over the authorities. Many victims end up here as persons who asked to be smuggled into this country seeking a better life, only to find that their relationship with the smugglers did not end once they arrived. Once here, they are place into debt bondage where the criminals refuse to "release" them until they pay off what is owed. It is usually impossible to pay off such debt, since the criminals create ongoing charges for food and lodging while the victim is held against their will.

Human trafficking victims are plentiful and exist in most all communities; however, their presence is extremely difficult to detect - which is what the criminals count on. And not only are they difficult to detect, once they come in contact with authorities or others who might be able to help them, they remain quiet out of fear of being beaten or having their families harmed. It is an extremely difficult situation for them.

Victims of human trafficking need to learn that as human trafficking victims, they have a broad range of rights accorded to them by virtue of their victim status. Even if a victim is here illegally, the government will not focus on their immigration status when they come forward to report the human trafficking activity. Rather, the priority is to go after the criminals that brought them here or kept them here by means of force, fear or indebtedness. It is likely that the person coming forward is not the only person being victimized by their captors.

Keep in mind that none of the following, by themselves, mean that a person is a victim of human trafficking. But there are some things to look for that may provide, clues that an enslavement situation exists. Persons who live and work in the same building may be victims. The conditions in which they exist, such as the overall cleanliness and comfort level of their surroundings, the person's physical condition, and whether they have access to medical care, computers, cell phones and the outside world are all signs of human trafficking. Often times, security measures are taken that manage people coming and going from the location to ensure the victim cannot escape and monitor who is on the premises. Victims may be afraid to speak to anyone from the outside, their captors tend to speak for their victims in public situations, never leave them alone for such things as doctor appointments, and victims do not usually carry their own cash or identification - those things are kept by their captors. The best rule of thumb is to call the authorities when in doubt or when anything suspicious is observed. To do otherwise can leave the victims in a life-long state of servitude, enslavement or worse.

Human trafficking exists as a very dark side of the human existence; the underbelly of society where few people, other than the victims and their captors, go. One would think that our society has moved far beyond that subhuman behavior, but with hundreds of thousands of people presently being victimized, it shows we have a long way to go. We must do all that we can to shut down this awful, inhumane industry that is operating right here in our communities.
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