The Last 10 Years of Human Trafficking


SEATTLE — The global issue of human trafficking can leave people feeling defeated. The numbers may seem heavy, but knowledge of them may lead to an increase in awareness rather than an increase in crime. In 2008, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) described knowledge of human trafficking as the footsteps of a monster, comparing a lack of information to an unknown beast. Without such information, only guesses can be made as to the scope of the problem or what can be done. After looking over the last 10 years of human trafficking research, the world is finally starting to understand the shape of this monster and how to fight it.

The traits of human trafficking are split into three parts. The first is the act, or how someone initially brings a victim into a trafficking situation. The second is the means by which they hold someone captive. A trafficker will often use coercion, deception or abuse to keep a victim trapped. The third is the purpose of exploitation. About 72 percent of women are trafficked for sexual exploitation, while about 85 percent of men are trafficked for forced labor. A small percentage are trafficked for other purposes, including organ removal.

The Start of a Movement

In 2003, the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons was a global step toward bringing governments together, providing a definition of trafficking situations and setting a goal to fight trafficking and assist victims. Creating universal legislation was and still remains a difficult task, but the number of countries with legislation in place has grown from 33 in 2003 to 158 in 2016. While correlation has not been as dramatic as some would hope, the increase in legislation has increased the conviction of criminals for human trafficking. The U.N. has reported about one person convicted per five victims. Many still go without punishment, but this is nonetheless an increase in convictions over the last 10 years of human trafficking.

Trends Seen in the Last 10 Years of Human Trafficking

As of 2016, trafficking grossed about $150.2 billion globally. Many developed countries are seeing an increase in online transactions. In the United States in particular, there are estimates that about 70 percent of persons are bought or sold online. Further, transnational traffickers (those who cross at least one international border) usually follow migration patterns, selling victims from low-income countries to those in high-income nations.

Additionally, while women have always been trafficked more than men, the trend for trafficked men has increased. In 2004, about 13 percent of victims were men, which rose to 21 percent in 2014. However, a positive trend has been the recent decrease in child trafficking. In 2004, 13 percent of those trafficked were children, and while it did rise to 34 percent in 2012, it has since decreased to 28 percent in 2014.

New Information on Traffickers and Victims

Knowledge from the last 10 years of human trafficking has better enabled the U.N., governments and nonprofits to convict traffickers and rescue victims. A fact recently identified is that in many cases, the trafficker and victim are people of the same language, ethnicity and gender. Similar backgrounds can build a false trust between the two. This knowledge inadvertently led to an awareness that women can be traffickers as well.

The rate of women being convicted of trafficking is higher than for most other crimes. About 37 percent of people convicted for trafficking were women. An exception is in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where the majority of offenders (about 58 percent) are women.

Regions Affected Differently by Human Trafficking

The UNODC divides the world into nine sub-regions, which include Western and Southern Europe, Central and Southeastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, North America, Central America and the Caribbean, South America, East Asia and the Pacific, North Africa and the Middle East, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. While the last 10 years of human trafficking have continued the trend of women being the most exploited for sexual oppression, it has also revealed some new data.

In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, men accounted for 53 percent of those exploited, and 64 percent of victims were coerced into forced labor. In South Asia, adults made up 60 percent of exploited people, with 85 percent of victims being pressed into forced labor. In sub-Saharan Africa, boys were the most commonly exploited, at 39 percent of all human trafficking victims. Forced labor was the most common form of exploitation there, with 53 percent of victims being forced into labor.

Meanwhile, North Africa and the Middle East saw women accounting for the largest group of those exploited at 38 percent, but forced labor was the most frequently detected form of exploitation at 44 percent. North America, Central America and the Caribbean, South America and South Asia had the most domestic trafficking; all of these regions had more than 50 percent domestic victims.

The Evolution of Thought in Regards to Human Trafficking

Global knowledge of trafficking is evolving. The understanding of trafficking has changed from women being sold for sexual exploitation to an issue that can affect anyone, as well as an awareness that even if a person does not travel across a border they can still be a trafficking victim. This new awareness and understanding has and will continue to lead to convictions.

While there is still a lot to learn, the last 10 years of human trafficking data will contribute to ending modern slavery. The size, shape and means of the monster are now understood. This knowledge will aid governments in convicting criminals and help organizations prevent trafficking and rescue victims.

– Natasha Komen
Photo: Flickr


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