By definition human trafficking is the commerce and trade in the movement or migration of people, legal and illegal, including both legitimate labor activities as well as forced labor. Human trafficking is now one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world, with the total annual revenue for trafficking in persons estimated to be between $5 billion and $9 billion. The Council of Europe states that people who are being trafficked has reached epidemic proportions over the past decade, with a global annual market of about $42.5 billion. Trafficking victims typically are recruited using deception, fraud, the abuse of power, or outright abduction. Threats, violence, and economic leverage such as debt forgiveness and the promise of a “good” life can persuade a victim into being exploited.
When I first started to research the issue of human trafficking I really did not know as much as I thought I knew about the issue. Soon I started to understand the economics of such a business, how easy it is to make lots of money, how universal the demand, how difficult it is to prosecute. Human trafficking is a low-risk, high-profit enterprise, and because it looks to the casual observer — and even to cops — like garden variety prostitution, it is tolerated. And worse, it is growing.
At the beginning of my research I learned about a girl named Shauna. In Shauna’s case, she made friends with a new girl at school. Shauna described the girl’s so-called “father” as a guy who hired Shauna and her new “friend” to clean condos. He always gave them money for the mall and she remembers that he was always very attentive to her. She says she could never have predicted that the man would hurt her. The “father” turned out to be a trafficker and the new “friend” was his recruiter. How could a high school “girlfriend” be part of such a terrible plot? The “father” or one of his cohorts slipped Shauna a date rape drug in a glass of water. She was beaten and raped repeatedly by a group of men.
Shauna says that she remembers talk of money changing hands and a conversation about going to Texas. When she was finally dropped off after her captors were threatened by investigators, she was overdosing on six different drugs and had to be revived three times on the way to the hospital.
The trafficking operations are described by law enforcement as being mob-like networks; some are mom and pop, still others are local city-wide networks. The kids are either brought to a prostitution district or they are moved around to large work sites — like New Orleans, and the Mississippi coast — or they are even moved around to convention cities. They are brought to where there is demand, something which, experts will tell you, exists everywhere across the United States.