4 Things You Should Know About Human Trafficking and Slavery

It’s one of those things you hear about, but never think you’ll see. Maybe you’re familiar with it from news story headlines or have seen examples in movies like Taken, but one way or another, you’ve probably been exposed to the disturbing practice of human trafficking and modern slavery. Human trafficking is when people are illegally traded into a form of slavery to be exploited for monetary gain.

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and in honor of this important and still largely invisible issue, here are four things you should know about human trafficking and slavery to raise your awareness:

human trafficking awareness month

4 Things You Should Know About Human Trafficking and Slavery

1. There are 5 types of slavery.

Sexual slavery (someone being forced into prostitution) is one of the more well-known forms of human trafficking, but there are actually five types (sometimes overlapping) of modern slavery as identified by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center:

Sex Slavery: Forced into the commercial sex industry. The commercial sex industry includes prostitution, pornography, strip clubs, online escort services, fake massage parlors, or any other time when a sex act is exchanged for something of value.

Forced Labor: Forcing someone to work against their will. Generally, forced labor slaves are exploited for commercial gain.

Debt Labor (also called Bonded Labor): Required to work because of a mutual agreement to work to pay off a debt; however, the conditions of the agreement are illegal and exploit the worker to the point where they become slaves and are unable to pay off their debt. To hear the story of how one man in India paid $110 for a loan and wound up doing 20 years of debt labor, check this article and video out.

Domestic Servitude: Forced into slavery as live-in help like nannies or house cleaners in private homes. These people may look like a regular old nanny or domestic help, but they do not have the freedom to leave whenever they want, they don’t make decent (if any) wages, and their passports may be held by their “employer.” People that end up in domestic servitude are often trafficked across borders with the promise of a job or educational opportunity only to be forced into domestic servitude.

Child Slavery: Children under the age of 18 years old who are forced, coerced, or tricked into slavery. Children may be forced into any of the other four types of slavery. Children have been forced into slavery in all kinds of industries. Nestle, the maker of well-known chocolates like Kit Kat, Butterfinger, and Toll House chocolate chips, is notorious for accusations lodged against the company claiming that they use child slaves in Africa to harvest cocoa, accusations for which the company is currently being sued.

2. No one knows just how big the problem is.

The International Labor Organization estimates that in 2012, 20.9 million people globally were victims of human trafficking. To think about it another way, that means that 3 out of every 1,000 people in the world are forced into modern slavery. These numbers are staggering to think about. Human trafficking is an underground, illegal business with no accountability, that flies under the radar. There is no way to know exactly how large the problem is.

3. Human trafficking and slavery don’t just affect women.

Although women and children tend to be the largest number of victims of slavery, both sexes are victims of each of the five types of slavery. Men are often victims of forced or debt labor, like the stories of these men who were trafficked and forced to work on fishing boats in Thailand.

4. Human trafficking and slavery happen in your community, too.

It’s so easy to think of trafficking and slavery as a problem that happens somewhere else, in big cities or other countries, but the fact is that this happens in communities all across the U.S. Trafficked and enslaved people could be people that work at nail salons or restaurants in your city. They could be the teenage runaways or young women in your town who were trafficked into sex slavery. Human trafficking and slavery happen everywhere.

How can you learn more?

There are so many great resources out there to learn more about human trafficking and modern slavery. Here are just a few to get you started:

Polaris Project: https://polarisproject.org/, an organization that is leading the global fight against trafficking and slavery and provides tons of information and facts on slavery and how to identify potential trafficking victims.

The CNN Freedom Project: http://thecnnfreedomproject.blogs.cnn.com/. This project highlights stories of human trafficking from all over the world as well as the people fighting to end modern slavery.

If you’re in Cincinnati, check out the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, an amazing museum that looks at the past and present of slavery. They also have a wonderful permanent exhibit on modern slavery that you should definitely check out. Also, check out their website End Slavery Now, a great resource with tons of information on modern slavery.


About Sally Pope

I recently graduated in May 2012 from the NYU Masters in Public Health program with a concentration in Community and International Health. Before coming to NYU, I received a B.A. from the University of Florida where I studied History and Anthropology. While at NYU, I have studied in Mexico looking at the health impacts of immigration and health outcomes in post-apartheid South Africa. I have worked internationally with the Naturopathic Medicine in Global Health non-profit in Guatemala and at the Gender, Health & Justice Research Unit at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. While living in NYC, I interned with the United Nations Population Fund working on the rights of indigenous peoples and was a research intern at the CHIBPS NYU research center on two research projects looking at the effect behavioral patterns of men who have sex with men has on their HIV status. My interests lie in global public health, promoting gender equality and human rights. The summer of 2012, I interned with the SISGI Group as a Program and Research Intern where I blogged on issues related to refugees, women’s health issues globally and global environmental health issues. Additionally I served as the Assistant Project Lead on a collaborative assessment project with the American Diabetes Association. In my free time I like to practice yoga, am an avid news junkie, hike, travel to far off lands and read.
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