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Human Trafficking: What Slavery Looks Like in 2019

Slavery, as most people know it, ended in 1865 with the ratification of the 13th amendment.

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Union victory in the war and President Lincoln’s legislative efforts ended the government’s participation in slavery.

However, over 150 years later, another form of slavery is taking place: human trafficking.


A hidden crime

Human trafficking is the trade of humans, usually for the purpose of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.

Because of its hidden nature, human trafficking isn’t normally at the forefront of news in America.

In 2017, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that 40.3 million victims are currently being exploited through modern slavery.

  • 24.9 million are forced into labor for profit
  • 15.4 million are in forced marriages
  • 4.8 million are sexually exploited
  • 4 million are victims of state-imposed forced labor

Forced labor, which is only one component of human trafficking, is thought to generate $150 billion in profits every year.

Though forced labor and sex trafficking check the biggest boxes, there are many ways that trafficking victims can be exploited.

Children can be forced into early marriage, harsh and unpaid physical labor, illicit international adoption, be recruited as child soldiers, or used for begging or soliciting on behalf of adults.

There is also a large market for trafficking in the form of organ trade. Victims can be forced into giving up an organ, or have one taken without their knowledge during another medical procedure.

The people who are most at-risk for trafficking are refugees, migrants, and other transients. This is because they are generally more vulnerable, and less likely to be reported missing.

LGBT+ individuals, religious minorities, people with disabilities, and those below the poverty line are also targeted — many of whom also become homeless at some point in their lives.

Women and children are especially at-risk. They account for 99% of commercial sex victims, and 58% in other sectors. 1 in 4 victims of modern slavery are children.


What can we do about it?

Human trafficking is considered one of the fastest-growing activities of transnational criminal organizations.

While it may be something we imagine happening in third world countries, trafficking is alive and well in the United States. The Department of Justice estimates that 14,500-17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. every year.


Look for the signs

Trafficking tends to occur in areas with large immigrant populations — notably California, Texas, Arizona, and Georgia. It’s important to remain vigilant for signs that someone is a human trafficking victim.

Pay attention to at-risk individuals who display these signs:

  • Live with their employer
  • In poor conditions
  • Multiple people in a cramped space
  • You can’t speak to them alone
  • Answers seem scripted or rehearsed
  • Employer holds their identity documents
  • Signs of physical abuse
  • Appear submissive or fearful
  • Unpaid, or paid very little
  • Under 18 and in prostitution

If you believe you know a victim of human trafficking, alert law enforcement immediately. Call 911, or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.


You can also help by being a responsible consumer

Educate yourself on the companies you buy your products from.

Avoid companies known to use forced labor, child labor, or who pay their workers very little. Retail giants like H&M, Abercrombie & Fitch and GAP are often referred to as “fast fashion” — all have been exposed at different times for using sweatshop factories in poorer countries to make their products.

A little research into where you’re putting your money can go a long way.



A Senate resolution in 2007 named January 11 as Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

Additionally, every January since 2010 has been dedicated to preventing slavery and human trafficking.

Even though human trafficking remains an issue, the United States is considered a Tier 1 country for trafficking; that means that our government is in compliance with the standards of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act of 2000. The U.S. is actively working to eliminate trafficking using new legislation, task forces, and increased vigilance.

Trafficking is a hidden, lucrative business that destroys millions of lives every year. You can do your part to end it by spreading awareness of this heinous crime.

To learn more, visit the Polaris Project:

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