Human Trafficking: An International Crime


Gerald F. Witherspoon, Sr. 20141130



Human Trafficking: An International Crime

Of all international criminal activity, human trafficking is arguably the most blatant contributor to human rights violations. Jennifer Turner (Human Rights Researcher for ACLU) and many others have considered human trafficking “modern day slavery” (, 2014). It violates the rights of humans in many regards including labor, health, and personal security. Further, international criminal organizations perceive human trafficking as a lower risk than other products and prosecutions have been scant. Finally, if supply and demand drives human trafficking, coercion and deception keep it from crashing to a halt.

Human Trafficking Defined

The United Nations (UN) defines human trafficking as,

the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. (as cited in Siskin & Wyler, 2013, p. 1)*

The UN definition puts forth three condensed or essential elements and clarifies how consent is not required and the criminal definition does not require the victim to cross national borders (Siskin & Wyler, 2013). The prosecutorial relevance here is that trafficking occurs with and without consent and within and across national borders. Nevertheless, prosecution is not easy as many participants or victims refuse to testify against traffickers out of fear they or their families will be murdered (, 2006).

Vulnerability = Supply, and Demand

As summarized by Alison Sisken and Liana Wyler in the CRS Report for Congress entitled, Trafficking in persons: U.S. Policy and Issues for Congress, “In general, the trafficking business feeds on conditions of vulnerability, such as youth, gender, poverty, ignorance, social exclusion, political instability, and ongoing demand” (2013).

In essence, a young female (would include many under 18 years old) living in poverty stricken conditions, unfamiliar with the phenomena of human trafficking, and unaware of the dangers involved would be vulnerable to exploitation by an international criminal organization looking to make a profit. Her vulnerability dramatically increases if she is socially excluded (including familial discontent) because of race, religion, or other social factors in an environment where the government is either incapable or unwilling to avert abuse from criminals.

Then, the demand for trafficking tips most scales. Sisken and Wyler reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimated in 2006 that $9.5 billion was generated annually by organized criminal involvement in human trafficking; In 2009, the ILO reported that 20.9 million women and children are trafficked internationally for various purpose; In 2012, the UNODC reported that victims originated in 136 countries and were exploited in 118 countries (Siskin & Wyler, 2013, p. 7). These numbers, although estimates, shine a bright light on the demand that exists and presents a field ripened for abuse and exploitation.

There are various forms of trafficking, but the most widely reported are categorized as sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and child trafficking. Sisken and Wyler point out how “…forced work in labor intensive activities…” across multiple industries have been reported as more prevalent than sexual exploitation, but sex trafficking was reported and prosecuted more often (Siskin & Wyler, 2013, p. 8).

Sadly, no population is more vulnerable than children. The ILO estimated 5.5 million children were currently forced into labor relationships; UNICEF estimated 2 million were forced into sexual relationships; The UN Secretary-General estimated at least 54 state and non-state actors recruited and used children in armed conflicts in many developing countries (Siskin & Wyler, 2013, p. 9).

Coercion, Deception, and the Case of West Africa

Employment agency managers and corrupt immigrations officials are amongst those who have assisted in the process of recruiting and exploiting trafficking victims (Siskin & Wyler, 2013). Balkan and Latin American groups have offered “…promises of employment, participation in beauty contests, modeling opportunities, affordable vacations, study abroad programs, and marriage services” (Siskin & Wyler, 2013, p. 6).

Forced labor has been facilitated by deceptive or fraudulent contracts whereby migrants accept would-be better opportunities abroad only to realize later that the job did not exist or only under extremely worse conditions than originally presented. Some contract conditions are not only changed upon arrival, but sometimes written intentionally in language uninterpretable by the signatory (Siskin & Wyler, 2013). Other groups charge migrant smuggling fees to those wishing to cross international borders and demand migrants to pay back gross amounts.

Incidents in West Africa offer a slight glimpse of the problem of human trafficking. In Cote d’Ivoire, for example, immigrants from Burkino Faso are employed in agricultural slavery on cocoa plantations (Ezeanyika & Ubah, 2012, p. 12). Sierra Leone has been used to transport labor migrants while claiming they are “refugees” while members of the Lebanese community have  taken many local girls under 18 years of age to work as prostitutes while disguising them as maids (Ezeanyika & Ubah, 2012, p.12). Although a small percentage preferred to work as sex slaves or forced laborers during the war conditions of 1992-2002, many others were deceived by offers of employment and promises of education (Ezeanyika & Ubah, 2012, p. 12-13).

Still further, girls in Nigeria are initiated into the international prostitution trade through rape and violence (Ezeanyika & Ubah, 2012, p. 13). Madams (advanced level or “successful” prostitutes) are often involved in recruitment. They make employment offers, organize forged documents, bribe immigration officials in Nigeria and abroad, manage a network of hotel operators, coordinate with priests and lawyers for oath swearing and contract-binding, and require prostitutes to repay supposedly-acquired travel costs that amount to approximately US$50,000 (Ezeanyika & Ubah, 2012, p. 13).


Conclusively, it is important to note that all forms of human trafficking most always involve some form of coercion and deception, and both involve a higher percentage of females. Shipments of marijuana, heroin, “crack” cocaine, and methamphetamines are not persuaded to cross borders, do not volunteer themselves to be transported, nor can they testify in court and deny allegations of criminal intent. Neither can cargo containers full of military grade weapons and ammunition. Nevertheless, an alarming amount of trafficked persons volunteer, are violently coerced, or deceived into engaging in criminal activities around the world. It is high time for the international community to come together and put an end to slavery once and for all.


References (2014, June 24). U.S. Admits Modern-Day Slavery Exists at Home. Retrieved from American Civil Liberties Union: (2006). Prosecution. Retrieved November 29, 2014, from

Ezeanyika S., Ubah, C. (2012). Towards Understanding Africa’s International Criminal Organizations as an Emerging Industry in a Globalizing World. African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies, 6.

Wyler, A. S. (2013). Trafficking in Persons: U.S. Policy and Issues for Congress. Congressional Research Service.


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