An Intelligence Report
woman, used in prostitution in
Western Europe, is forced through
threats and intimidation to give
all earnings to her trafficker.
Photo credit: Kay Chernush for
the U.S. State Department.
a thriving international business in our
increasingly interconnected global economy,
generating some $9 billion in profits every
year. Only it’s rooted in one of the
world’s oldest evils—the enslavement
of human beings.
It’s called “human
it involves buying, selling, and smuggling
people—often women and children—and
forcing them into what amounts to modern-day
How big is the problem? Very
big. According to the State Department, up
to two million people are trafficked
worldwide every year, with an estimated 15,000
to 18,000 in the U.S., causing untold suffering.
How are victims “recruited”? Sometimes
by force, but usually by fraud. Victims are
lured away from family and friends by the
promise of a better life, often in another
country. For traffickers, there’s no
shortage of victims—people eager for
higher-paying jobs and other opportunities
in distant cities and nations.
What kinds of work are victims
forced to do? Both legal and illegal.
Everything from prostitution to exotic
dancing…from street peddling to
housekeeping…from child care to
construction and landscaping. Some victims
are forced to work in restaurants and factories
and are drawn into servile marriages and
various criminal activities.
How are victims controlled? Many
different ways: physically,
through beatings, burnings, rapes, and starvation; emotionally,
through isolation, psychological abuse, drug
dependency, and threats against family members
in home countries; and financially,
through debt bondage and threat of deportation.
Escape is difficult because victims are
often “invisible”—in the
U.S., for example, victims typically don’t
speak English; they’re afraid to approach
authorities because they don’t want
to be deported; and they have no idea where
they are or how to get help.
What about the traffickers? In
the U.S., they’re often members of
the victim’s own ethnic or national
community…are here legally and maintain
close contact with their home country…may
be fluent in English and a native language…and
may have greater social or political status
in their home country than their victims.
- International criminal syndicates with “diversified trafficking portfolios” that
smuggle drugs and guns along with people and use the same routes for all three;
- “Mom-and-pop” family operations
that often have extended family on both
sides of the border and lure victims by
striking up romantic relationships;
- Independently owned businesses with
contractors/agents who provide laborers
for menial jobs; and
- Individuals, such as diplomats or foreign
business executives who arrive with “servants,” pimps,
and sometimes even neighbors and friends
of the victim.
What we’re doing about the
problem? Quite a bit, from our
participation in local task forces and
national initiatives…to our intelligence-based
investigations. We’ve worked cases
in 48 states so far. Here are a few recent
you a victim or do you think you may
know one? Then please
call your local
or the Department of Justice trafficking
hotline at 1-888-428-7581.