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Understanding Human Trafficking

Thursday, May 11th, 2017

Written by: María Cristina Pacheco-Alcalá, Project Coordinator, Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network

What is human trafficking? Why do people keep talking about it? What does it have to do with me?

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center defines human trafficking as a form of modern-day slavery. This crime occurs when a trafficker uses force, fraud or coercion to control another person for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or soliciting labor or services against his/her will.

According to a 2012 report by the International Labor Organization:*

  • There are approximately 20.9 million victims of forced labor globally
  • 26% of all forced labor victims globally, or about 5.5 million, are children
  • In Latin America and the Caribbean, 3.1 people out of every 1,000 are victims of forced labor, compared to 1.5 out of 1,000 in all countries with developed economies and the European Union

One of the largest factors that puts people at risk of being trafficked is deplorable conditions in their country, such as civil war, public unrest, poverty, political status and lack of value and respect for women and children, and the impact of natural disasters, to name a few. One big challenge centers around how gender roles are viewed and constructed in these countries. If, for example, the culture’s views on gender indicate that women and girls have no inherent value and are only an object for sex or for work, while men, on the other hand, have the authority to do whatever they want, women and girls are at risk for exploitation.

But human trafficking is not only about the conditions of people’s location, it’s also about the conditions of the destination countries. For example, if there are no efforts to stop exploitation of people in destination countries, trafficking will likely flourish. Traffickers range from powerful and wealthy community members to organized crime and everything in between; they may look friendly and familiar and even be part of your neighborhood. They recruit their victims through acquaintances, family, fake employment agencies, social media, word-of-mouth, and abductions, among other strategies.

Survivors of human trafficking often have a variety of issues to deal with, including but not limited to, trauma, achieving safety for themselves and their family, poverty and in some cases disability. They may have been forced into domestic service, sex work, servile marriage, criminal activity and begging while being trafficked. Service providers’ primary challenge is having available resources, such as sufficient staff, knowledge, and economic ability to address these needs that varying levels of trauma have created.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA, 22 U.S.C. Sect. 7102 – 2000), passed in 2000 and reauthorized and expanded over the years, seeks to combat trafficking by promoting what is often described as the “3 P’s”.  The P’s refer to:

  • Prosecution defines human trafficking as a crime and includes all the elements of the crime that could cover all those benefiting in any manner from human trafficking.
  • Protection provisions allow advocates to identify victims, provide them with services and protection if necessary, and when appropriate, provide them with immigration relief. This also includes adequate shelter, care, protection, legal assistance, information and interpretation services, among others. Immigrant survivors, if found to be a victim of human trafficking, are eligible for immigration relief, particularly the T-visa. This would also entitle a victim to receive the same benefits as refugees in the U.S., such as medical assistance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and food stamps. These services are provided through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement on a per capita basis; and by the Department of Justice, Office of Victims of Crime grants to non-governmental organizations. Victims of trafficking are also eligible for the U-visa, which would allow a victim of trafficking, as well as other serious crimes, to adjust their immigration status. The difference between the two visas is that a T-visa is only awarded if the victim’s presence in the United States is a result of trafficking.
  • Prevention measures raise awareness of the abhorrent practices involved in the trafficking trade to reduce the demand for services obtained through human trafficking.

Survivors of human trafficking have been exposed to severe and complex forms of trauma, which has a direct effect in their interpersonal relationships. It’s very important to let the survivors know that they have rights, they’re not alone, and that they’re entitled to receive support and services.

*This information has been revised from the original version of this blog to reflect more accurate and up-to-date research.

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