How Bad is Human Trafficking Around the World?

Although Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter battle over his child prostitution statistics overtook any real news on human trafficking, this week saw the release of the State Department’s annual report on Trafficking in Persons.  In it, the State Department detailed the status of human trafficking worldwide, providing what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called “a snapshot” of what’s happening globally to quell the tide of human trafficking.  It assessed efforts by governments to fight forced labor and sexual slavery, and ranked countries in three “tiers,” based on their success.

The report included forced labor, sex trafficking, domestic servitude, child soldiers, and child labor and sex slavery.  The first tier consisted of countries which complied with the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act (TVPA)’s standards for the elimination of human trafficking; the second, countries which do not comply with TVPA’s minimum standards but are making efforts to do so, and the third, countries which do not comply with the minimum standards and are not trying to do so.

There is also a “watch list” of countries that would qualify as Tier 2 but where the numbers of victims are increasing.  ”Special case” countries – Sierra Leone, Haiti, and Somalia – are the worst three, but also have been marked by extreme conflict or natural disaster.

Among the worst countries for human trafficking were Iran, Algeria, Burma, North Korea, Cuba, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela.  But there were many others on Tier 2, which means that although they may be “trying” to comply with TVPA’s standards, the numbers of victims are rising.

One of the most devastating parts of the report – besides the statistics which baldly declare that 27 million people are victims of human trafficking worldwide – were the stories of people who have been trafficked.

One 15-year-old girl was lured away from her Honduran village by “businessmen” who promised a job working in an American textile factory.  Once they arrived in the U.S., however, the girls “captive, beaten, raped, and forced to work in cantinas that doubled as brothels. Men would come to the cantina and choose a beer and a girl, sometimes as young as 12. They would pay for the beer and sit with the girl while she drank it. If they wanted to have sex with the girl, they would take her to the back and pay cash for a mattress, paper towels, and spermicide. The captors beat the girls daily if they did not make enough money.”

“Ravi,” a man from India, was convinced to come to the United States and work on an oil rig as part of a post-Katrina rebuilding project.  He was falsely promised permanent residency, but instead “was forced to live with 23 other men in a small room with no privacy and two toilets. The camp was lined with barbed wire and security guards, so no one on the outside knew Ravi’s whereabouts. The company charged so much for food and a bunk bed that Ravi was unable to send any money home or repay the money he borrowed for his travel expenses to the United States.”

These are just a handful of the stories in the report, which are themselves just a handful of the human rights atrocities that occur worldwide.  During her statement, Secretary of State Clinton said that developed, Tier 1 countries need to accept their own responsibility for what happens globally.  ”While this report is encouraging more countries to come to the table, none of us can afford to be satisfied,” she said.  ”Just because a so-called developed country has well-established rules, laws, and a strong criminal justice system, does not mean that any of us are doing everything we can.”

As James Lindsay points out in a blog post, the report clearly illustrates that what we’re doing isn’t enough.  ”the number of victims identified worldwide dropped 32 percent from 49,105 in 2009 to 33,113 in 2010. Despite the awareness-raising report and U.S. and UN-sponsored training trafficking…victims are still being doubly victimized when treated by society and law enforcement as dirty, disposable, and deportable.”

It’s an important lesson, and one that we need to remember.  And although the “decade of progress” that the State Department heralded since they started releasing reports on human trafficking 10 years ago is certainly something to celebrate, there’s a lot more work to be done.

Photo from Capitan Giona’s Flickr photostream.


W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Thank you.

Jaime Dough
Angelus Silesius5 years ago

This in no way addresses the full scope of the problem but serves the purpose. How many college girls prostitute themselves to make their way through college because of sky high costs? A man i knew many years ago professed to have been involved in escort services and told me that there are different pay tires at which women will participate in prosititution.Many of these are wives and mothers, stay at home moms, girlfriends,daughters and much of the clientele are law enforcement,politicians,judges,etc.-- the very people wielding power over ordinary citizens.
Much of the human trafficking also appears to come from parts of the world tha are poor or have be en ravagedby warfare or economic collapse. Russia is a hotbed of child exploitation.

Chinese restaurants, such as those in Manchester and Concord, NH, allegedly bring in chinese from New York, pack them into housing andc control their transportation.

Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers6 years ago

Thanks for sharing this information.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Scott Vonwolf
Scott haakon6 years ago

I myself hate the label of trafficking call it what it is slavery. I am also glad to see that by calling it slavery we can deal with it less emotionally and more thoughtfully. Slaves are big business. male slaves have not been really addressed as the West in the remnants of romantic 19th century thought continues to look the other way when it is (male) slaves. But the impact of slavery on legal enterprises is very real.

Pamela Foster
Pamela Foster6 years ago

There are always ways around facing up to this despicable practice. From leaving people to die in their own squalor, locked away from escape, to brainwashing them to believe that no one will ever love them for themselves so the victims end up cooperating. Praying, as that is all that I can do.

Glenda L.
Glenda L6 years ago

Anyone who participates in this or knows what is happening and does nothing, should be severely punished. I think you lose the right to call yourself human when you participate in such terrible acts.

The numbers in this article however, don't make any sense.

Jane L.
Jane L6 years ago

Thank you for sharing the individual stories and putting a name to them. To answer the question in the title of the article, I think that as long as there is trafficking, it is bad - period.

heather g.
heather g6 years ago

The UN has vastly different statistics at

Loo Samantha
Loo sam6 years ago

this is so sad.....