Trafficking in Persons: A Problem Beyond Borders and Genders

By Dialogo
July 22, 2013

The recently released Trafficking in Persons Report by the U.S. Department of Sate focuses on victim identification as a top priority in the global movement to combat human trafficking. It details training and techniques that make identification efforts successful, as well as the pitfalls of inadequate identification.

It also highlights new innovations and partnerships within and beyond government that will enhance identification efforts. If successfully implemented, these innovations will enable more effective delivery of services to survivors and an accumulation and analysis of data to improve the overall response to trafficking, says the study.

As the movement to combat modern slavery has evolved, so too has the understanding of what constitutes a trafficking victim. In the first few years after the Palermo Protocol was adopted, nearly all of the trafficking cases prosecuted by governments were sex trafficking cases; all identified victims were mainly female.

Though today’s estimates suggest that the majority of trafficking victims are indeed women and girls, it is now clear that trafficking victims are subjected to both sex and labor trafficking, and a significant percentage of trafficking victims are now composed of men and boys.

Despite a growing body of knowledge about victims and their needs, finding them remains a tremendous challenge. Part of this difficulty stems from the very nature of the crime. Traffickers constantly adapt their tactics to avoid detection and operate in zones of impunity. They prey on excluded populations——marginalized ethnic minorities, undocumented migrants, indigenous, poor, persons with disabilities—whose experiences and backgrounds often make them reluctant to seek help from authorities.

Material that dates as far back as the 1890s reveals that promises of greater opportunity, a better life, or a loving and supportive relationship have long lured victims into exploitation. As technology and globalization make the world more interconnected, traffickers’ ability to recruit and exploit their victims has also intensified.

Victims of forced labor have been found in nearly every job setting or industry imaginable, including private homes, factories, restaurants, elder care and medical facilities, hotels, housekeeping, childrearing, agriculture, construction and landscaping, food processing, meat-packing, and cleaning services.

Domestic work settings continue to have little or no government oversight or regulation in most countries. And though by definition human trafficking does not require the crossing of borders, migrant workers—including many women who seek new opportunities—remain especially at risk.

Even though some challenges to victim identification can be attributed to the nature of the crime, its perpetrators, or its victims, governments have a responsibility to identify victims of this crime. In every region, governments that a decade ago insisted there was no trafficking in their jurisdiction are now aggressively identifying and assisting victims and convicting traffickers. These governments are adopting modern anti-trafficking structures and sustaining the political will to vigorously apply them.

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