The Problem

Human Trafficking

“Do you know that you’re beautiful?” She is fresh out of high school, a 19-year old girl, working full-time to save for college, and one day, a man’s smooth words lure her into accepting the offer to model for his national business. The next day, she wakes up in a strange room, bruised and drugged, with a line of men standing outside the door placing wads of bills into her pimp’s hand.

Ashamed of his malnourished and beaten body, he was found, among dozens of other workers in a fruit-picking farm, isolated from the outside world, a voiceless soul owned by another human being.

This is modern-day slavery. Human trafficking is the second largest, fastest growing criminal industry in the world, generating a $32 billion yearly profit. The U.S. Department of State defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons by means of force, fraud, or coercion. This occurs for a variety of different purposes. See below for different types of human trafficking:

  • Sex trafficking – when a person is forced, coerced or deceived into prostitution.
  • Labor trafficking –
  1. Forced labor (or involuntary servitude)– when workers, usually farmers or factory workers, are exploited and forced to work against their will, receiving little or no pay and working in inhumane conditions. This constitutes the most common form of human trafficking cases.
  2. Bonded labor or debt bondage – when a bond or debt that the worker may have inherited from generations ago is used to keep him or her under suppression. Employers exploit the initial debt that workers assume as part of the terms of employment.
  3. Involuntary domestic servitude – usually occurs when foreign migrants, most likely women, and children, are recruited to a non-formal workplace as domestic servants. They are extremely vulnerable, without proper labor rights, and are often beaten and prostituted.

Why does it occur?

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

~Margaret Mead. 1971-1978. Author, anthropologist.

We as consumers fuel the problem. Do you enjoy shopping at Walmart, Forever 21, or Abercrombie and Fitch? Human trafficking occurs, in part, because of our consumer demands for cheap labor. Americans are willing to buy from companies that exploit their workers, resulting in traffickers reaping large profits. At NIMBY, we know that our communities must be involved in eradicating modern-day slavery by moderating many of our daily life choices. Take Action! Find out where the products you buy come from by researching the transparency of the company’s supply chain. See our Things You Can Do Page for a list of companies and products to avoid, or take this survey to see how many slaves are currently working for you.

Sex is another commodity that men and women in the United States are continually willing to buy. There is an increasing demand for sex with young girls and boys, which causes us to traffick our own children for commercial sex. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as many as 1.7 million children run away each year in the U.S. It is estimated that within 48 hours of leaving home, a runaway girl will be approached by a pimp. But just as common are pimps meeting and befriending girls at the food courts and at neighborhood malls. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that each year, about 300,000 children in our country are at risk for commercial sexual exploitation, the average age being around 12 years old. Americans are buying and selling children because other Americans are creating the demand for it.

Numerous studies show a strong correlation between pornography and human trafficking. As Melissa Farley wrote in her study on prostitution, pornography, and trafficking: feature this quote “Pornography is men’s rehearsal for prostitution. Pornography is cultural propaganda which drives home the notion that women are prostitutes. One man who used pornography said ‘I am a firm believer that all women… are prostitutes at one time or another.’” Read more from her article. When pornography, especially violent pornography, is defined as an acceptable aspect of society, it supports the exploitation of women and contributes to the sustainability of sex trafficking. An increase in the demand for pornography increases the demand for more prostituted women.

Who are the victims and who are the perpetrators?

“It’s as if all identity has been stolen from them, except their identity as slaves.”

~Kevin Bales. Co-founder of Free The Slaves.

“There is not a consistent type or profile of a trafficking victim. Based on U.S. federal law, trafficked persons in the U.S. can be men or women, adults or children, and foreign nationals or U.S. citizens. Some are well-educated, while others have no formal education.”

~Polaris Project

The populations around the world that are most vulnerable to human trafficking and exploitation can include undocumented immigrants, runaways and throwaway youth, victims of trauma and abuse, refugees, and marginalized and impoverished groups of people. In these incidents, factors such as poverty and lack of education help to perpetuate human trafficking. Yet regardless, there is no certain profile for those who are lured or coerced into the trafficking business. Trafficked victims cannot be reduced to a specific racial or gender category, educational level, or socio-economic status. In the United States, victims include men, women, and children from different backgrounds who are either citizens or foreigners trafficked into the country.

According to Trafficking and Victims Protection Act, victims of human trafficking are minors who are under the age of 18 performing commercial sex acts, regardless if they are forced, deceived, or coerced into doing so. Those over 18 who are forced, deceived, or coerced into providing commercial sex acts are considered victims, along with both children or adults forced into any form of labor trafficking.

Perpetrators can be anyone – family members, significant others, pimps, criminals, small business owners, or large factory owners. Yet all of them use psychological abuse, drugs, and physical abuse as forms of control and power over their victims.

Does it really exist in my backyard?

Yes! The most frequently cited estimate for the number of people enslaved in the world today is 27 million. Although there is no way to verify this number, we do know that there are more slaves in the world today than at any other time in human history.

So how does that affect you?

We often hear of trafficking issues occurring in other parts of the world, such as China, India, or Haiti. What we don’t always hear is that trafficking incidents occur in all 50 states, right in our own backyards. As said in the 2013 U.S. State Department TIP report:

“approaching human trafficking as a crime that occurs only in far off places ignores situations of forced labor or sex trafficking that may be happening closer to home. Human trafficking is not a problem that involves only foreigners or migrants, but one faced in nearly every corner of the world involving citizens who may be exploited without ever leaving their hometown.”

It could occur in the rundown massage parlor you pass by on your way to work, or in the truck, bus, and train stations, you frequently use. Airports, rest stops, hotels or motels, strip clubs, bars, or farms are also hubs of human trafficking activity. Or maybe it’s in your home or workplace, in the form of food, clothing, or products made by slaves.

About 14,500-17,500 people are trafficked into the United States annually. To an even greater extent, we are trafficking our own citizens. A 2001 University of Pennsylvania study found that 244,000 to 325,000 American children and youth are at risk for sexual exploitation and sex trafficking each year. According to Senator Daylin Leach, Pennsylvania is both a pass-through state and a destination point for human trafficking, victims being U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. Check out this map for more specific information on human trafficking by state.

Slavery exists in our backyards, and at NIMBY, we know that ending this massive, global human rights abuse and bringing justice to the oppressed is crucial in developing our world, our country, and ourselves.

What is the government’s role?

“Here and around the world, trafficking in persons destroys lives. It threatens communities. It creates instability. It undermines the rule of law. And it is a horrendous assault on our most dearly held values of freedom and basic human dignity. We, along with every nation, bear the responsibility to confront modern slavery by punishing traffickers and helping survivors get their lives back on track.”

~John F. Kerry. Secretary of State, 2013.

“Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.”

~Nelson Mandela

Human trafficking is not legal anywhere in the world. It is the role of governments to lead their countries in anti-trafficking reforms. On an international scale, governments are working together to end modern-day slavery across the globe. In 1948, the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with a specific provision for modern-day slavery in article 4, stating “no one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms…”. In 2003, the UN General assembly adopted Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, which established the first agreed-upon, legally binding definition on human trafficking along with a consistent set of penalties that have allowed for international cooperation in investigating and prosecuting cases.

In the United States, we have the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which focuses on prosecuting – jailing the abusers and passing appropriate laws – protection – identifying victims and providing them with medical care and shelter – and prevention – raising awareness about this human rights abuse. The most recent reauthorization of the act offers new protections to trafficked victims and makes benefits and services available for severe forms of trafficking once victims are certified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The act also established the Trafficking in Persons office (TIP) of the state department to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts. An important function of TIP is its annual report of each country’s “tier rankings” according to their anti-trafficking efforts. This guides the U.S. in its diplomatic relations and responses to trafficking around the world.

· Tier 1 = country meets minimum standards according to TVPA

· Tier 2 = country makes efforts to comply with standards even though it does not

· Tier 3 = country does not meet standards and is failing to do anything

Find out the 2013 tier rankings of 188 countries

Though great strides have been made on both a national and international level, the fight against slavery has not been won. About 27 million people are still in captivity. The need to pass more legislation for protection and prevention is in order, pressuring our governments to focus on the issue while building public awareness. At NIMBY, our goal is to partner with government officials, law enforcement, and abolitionists as a means of generating change in our communities. If you are interested in getting involved by advocating with us, check out our Things You Can Do Page and find out how you can make a difference.

Why care?

“It ought to concern every person, because it’s a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at the social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name – modern slavery.”

~Barack Obama, United States President, 2012.

The transatlantic slave trade didn’t end because of a few individuals speaking out. Ending slavery takes a village. It takes well-informed communities with solid, morally grounded convictions that refuse to let injustice live. As Americans, we buy into the human trafficking business with our consumer demands for purchasing sex and for cheap products, perpetrating the system. How can we enjoy freedom when the very things we are buying and using are keeping people in captivity? How can we be the land of the free when we have American men and women pimping children off the streets and factory workers mistreating and abusing their workers on our own soil?

We at NIMBY believe that our freedom is bound up with the freedom and lives of others. As former president of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias Sanchez stated, “The more freedom we enjoy, the greater the responsibility we bear, toward others as well as ourselves.” We believe that awareness leads to action. We know that you have the power to change this social atrocity. The question is, will you?  Things You Can Do

“You can choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know.”

~William Wilberforce. 1759-1833. Politician, philanthropist, abolitionist.

All research and information provided by

All research and information provided by Beth Smith founder of Not In My Backyard.

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