8th list of 10: Facts about human trafficking

As I started my 101 entry, I thought I should do something fun. Inspired by Polly, I have decided to make 10 lists of 10; here is number 8.

  1. Human trafficking, also known as “modern day slavery,” is an umbrella term that encompasses several forms of exploitation including debt bondage, sex slavery, forced labor, and trade in human body parts.
  2. No one knows the extent, in terms of people or money, of human trafficking. Estimates globally range from 600,000 to 4 million people.
  3. Even within the U.S., numbers of traffic victims vary depending on your source from 17,000 to 50,000 individuals annually.
  4. After drug dealing, human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms trade as the second largest criminal industry in the world, and it is the fastest growing.
  5. Women and girls constitute 70-80% of the victims of human trafficking worldwide with 50% being minors. Men are trafficked too though.
  6. UNICEF reports that every year 1.2 million children are trafficked for a profit of an estimated 10 billion dollars.
  7. Age ranges and education levels vary. Personally, I have worked with or known traffic victims with graduate degrees and men nearing retirement age.
  8. Traffic victims have been identified all over the United States, including in small towns in middle America.
  9. Most agencies have endorsed a multidisciplinary approach to working with victims of human trafficking; however, a truly integrative programming is extremely expensive. Ideally, programs would address legal, medical, addiction, material, economic, and psychological needs.
  10. One researcher explains that a staggering percentage of prostitutes in many western countries are illegal immigrants; more than 50% in Germany and as much as 80% of Dutch prostitutes are foreign born. He surmises that most of these illegal immigrants were trafficked into brothels. Moreover, he argues that all other prostitution could be understood as domestic trafficking due to the violence, the women’s lack of control, and their inability to leave

Trafficking in Canada aka the ramblings of a foreign intern

Guest writer for this post is K, a good friend and colleague. She and I were the two in our cohort who focused specifically on human trafficking. She is currently in a practicum in Canada. The following are some of her initial impression.

Also, dear readers of an MSW in Cambodia, please take time to leave a little note for K so that she knows how much her contribution is being appreciated– even if you don’t have answers or comments on her post. It’s kinda fun having a guest over here. I want to encourage it!


Things here are going well. I’m learning a lot about the Canadian system and how they view human trafficking. I’ve had some thoughts and would love your feedback.

First some context:

Canada is basically a Tier Two country. This means that the US gave them a warning that they need to improve or the US will cut off any aid. This has huge implications if your a developing country. If you don’t really care about aid (such as Canada) its a black eye on your reputation. (Some countries like Russia and China don’t really care about either). To get a Tier Two ranking you have to really be doing very little to combat trafficking. In other words, little to no victim rights, poor legislation, little awareness, etc.

Where Canada is at now:

1) Canada has two definitions of trafficking. Yes, two. This creates a problem when you want to charge a criminal and the defense attorney says, “but he didn’t meet definition number 2 and definition number 1 is just plain unconstitutional”. It also makes it difficult to do…well…anything as a policy advocate (aka me).

2) In both of Canada’s definitions you have to have movement to have trafficking. I know this means little to you all, but I’m sure Clare is gasping with horror as she reads this 😉 This basically means that domestic slavery (the enslavement of your own citizens) is exceptionally difficult to prove because it is not unusual, at least in urban areas, for traffickers to not leave the city. For example, a runaway from Toronto is captured by traffickers in Montreal. The traffickers force the girl (who they found in Montreal) into a brothel in Montreal. By their definition, this is not trafficking. It would be anywhere else (well, in most other places). The implications of this is fewer victims rights and less penalty for the perps.

5) the federal age of consent to have sex is 14 years old. This makes sex trafficking of minors (anyone under 18 years of age) difficult if not impossible to prove. Notice how the laws don’t match up (i.e. 14 then 18…think of the two definitions). Also complicating the matter is that prostitution is legal.

Where this leaves me:

I’ve started work on the Alternative Report to the UN. The report is on how Canada is implementing the UN Optional Protocol on the Sale of the Child, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography. This is our opportunity to really call the Canadian gov out while also encourage some progress it has made. (for instance acknowledging that holding a child victim of sexual exploitation in police detention with adults is not a good thing). Right now it involves me doing a lot of calling, but its a good opportunity to see the process from beginning to almost end (it will be submitted early Oct I leave end of August so I’ll miss about a month.) I also get to start my calls with “I’m writing a report for the UN” which just makes me feel cool 🙂

Because we’re starting with almost nothing, I’m learning a lot about program development, which I didn’t learn about in school. This is a good thing. Also, we have a huge meeting on Thursday and we’re working our butt off to get everything done. A lot of government officials are coming to the meeting to talk about the rights of child victims. Many seem enthusiastic and are relatively high level. I get to practice my lobbying skills. This will be made even more interesting by the fact that the meeting will be entirely in French and I only speak a word (bonjour everyone, by the way) 🙂

I’m also learning a lot about border control (which is not such an issue in the Midwest). For example, if a guy shows up at the border with 3 kids and just says he’s their uncle (no actual proof of this) the Canadian border control won’t even ask a question. The Canadian government has recently acknowledged this is probably not a good thing (this acknowledgment came about after a report which indicated tons of kids from the US were being trafficked into Canada for sexual purposes). Still, they have indicated a willingness to change which is the beginning. I will hopefully be researching best practices concerning border control and helping write a suggested protocol for investigating suspicious situations. This will be great learning opportunity.

Philosophical Implications:

1) Political navigation – I, as a foreigner, will be researching controversial Canadian issues and writing position papers. How do you incorporate what others believe about power, a victim centered/feminist view point, your own belief system about power, while being sensitive to the fact that the context has changed?

2) Trying to understand people’s confusion on things you think are self explanatory: See the two definitions issues and not asking questions about separated children (A separated child is a kid who is with an adult that is not their legal guardian. See the border example above). How do tell people they are being stupid in a nice, politically savy way? haha 🙂

3) Not making assumptions about welfare policy: I have officially found out that having universal health care and a “liberal” government does not mean diddly squat when it comes to victims rights!

4) The two definitions and requiring movement have really profound implications when it comes to policies and interventions. I’m sure only my social work friends would be interested in this, so I won’t go into it here. BUT, I can see how this would impact all the social workers on this email so drop me a line and we’ll talk shop :-).

Don’t let my points give you the wrong impression. I love my internship. The fact that I have so much to talk about is proof enough.

When I grow up, I wanna be a spy

Sometimes I can be very impulsive– I am stirred easily by things I see or read. It is not uncommon for me to see a movie on doctors and want to be one or read a book about space travel and consider NASA. Coupled with a self esteem and belief that I can do anything, thanks mom and dad, it is amazing that I have not actually chased after all these dreams at once.

In light of this, and the fact that I have watched the first two seasons of Alias in the past month, its is not surprising that I found myself drawn to the organization APLE.  APLE, which stands for Action Pour Les Enfants, is a human rights organization that combats sexual exploitation of children.  While they have many programs, such as pro-bono legal aid and social rehabilitation, it was an article on their field investigators that caught my attention.

Like Sydney Bristow, these social workers are out to catch the “bad guys” (read western pedophiles) by following them and covertly collecting evidence.  “Part sleuth, part spy, these social workers are the street presence in the battle against child sexual abuse.” They work, often in the nights between 5pm and midnight, in many of the hangouts where western men lure and buy children. APLE’s network also includes many others who help collect evidence including locals, expats, and even children themselves.

Though they collect evidence and have secret identities and hidden cameras, they never directly confront the perpetrators.  There main goal is to collect enough evidence to bring it to the police. Some perpetrators are trailed for only two hours before enough evidence is collected– others take months.  Regardless, the information gathered is priceless. According to a police chief of the juvenile protection unit most cases presented by APLE are taken.

The Alias watching part of my mind sees the glamor in all this; even the satisfaction in knowing that pedophiles are being taken off the street.  The other part of my mind though wonders if I could do it.  How do you look at depravity every night and then go home to your children (I don’t have children yet– but let’s imagine) and kiss them, put them in bed, and believe that the world is a good place for them?  How do you compartmentalize your emotions enough to interact with the men and not let the repugnance shine through? In the end, I simply find myself in awe of the work they do– and although I am saddened that it must be done, I am glad someone is doing it.

Human trafficking in the News

Take a look at this article of Human Trafficking in the news: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article1836946.ece. The story in and of itself is shocking and something America really needs to see– all too often we think of trafficking as happening in “backwards” third-world country and having no representation in our own backyards. However, this is not the case and we need to start seeing it so that we better address it.

Peter, my professor who pointed out the article, also pointed out something even more disturbing to me– the fact that it didn’t make front page, or even close to front page.  This story was buried were most people would not see it, thus continuing the illusion that human trafficking is not a problem in the US.

Domestic violence, rape, trafficking and other crimes against women

The reality is that around the world women are subjugated and submitted to violence every second.  The reality is that those who defend them and speak up are often persecuted for it.  Sometimes, we need to take a moment and look at the people in this world who are doing amazing, un-thanked, difficult work and are giving up so much of themselves for so many others. Meet Lydia Cacho Ribeiro and notice the references to sex trafficking in Cancun. More and more I am realizing the role that Americans (or any western traveler) can and should play in promoting child-safe, women-safe, environmentally safe tourism.

More on economics

In the last post I talked about economics theory. Specifically, I pointed to the idea that if there is a demand, there will be a supply.  There is, however, more to this than simply meets the eye.

In the counter trafficking movement, much of the work being done has been to control the supply side of things.  Education outreach to villages encourages raised awareness of the risk of trafficking thus reducing the amount of people who will be duped into it. Vocational training and keeping kids in school projects work to increase the economic viability of at-risk populations making them less susceptible to traffickers. Economic development through asset-building and micro-loan programs have likewise made less people vulnerable.  Increasing the security at international borders has increased the number of individuals caught before crossing and thus saved from an unknown future.

But, in reality, a lot of what this is doing is to decrease (but not eliminate) the supply and do nothing to the demand. With a smaller supply and a constant demand, the profitability of human trafficking is actually going up.  Those traffickers who have found ways to traffic people and get them successfully to their destinations, are making more money then they were in the past.  Admittedly, this is hardly working as a deterrent

Human trafficking is tied with illegal arms trade as the second biggest illegal criminal industry in the world—and it is the fastest growing.

In order to curtail this, counter-trafficking programs and governments need to start focusing not just on the supply side, but also on two other key points:

  1. Decrease demand
  2. Increase penalties

If we decrease the demand for slave labor, beggars, prostitutes, etc., then the trafficking rings will have nowhere to sell their “goods” (aka human beings). If they have nowhere to sell the people to and profitability falls, they will go out of business. 

On the penalty side, there are not enough disincentives to either be a trafficker or to use the service of trafficked people.  For example, in many places it is illegal to be a prostitute, but not illegal to be a pimp or a john. The legal system, thus, punishes victims of trafficking (prostitutes) but does not adequately punish those who have trafficked them (unless there is a solid case of trafficking) or those who have bought their services.

Even in places where traffickers are prosecuted, often the punishment in terms of money and time in jail is not on-par with that of trafficking illegal drugs or weapons.  Therefore, with the penalties being less and the goods being re-sellable, it is an obvious and smart choice for criminal networks to get involved in human trafficking as opposed to drug or arms sales.

Giving money to beggars

Begger, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

Beggars exist throughout the world; they are not a reaction to third world status, but rather to intrinsic inequalities in economics. Some places beggars are more pronounced then others. Some places they are harassed by the police. Some places they are used in money making rackets.

How can beggars be a business? You would think that they would not make enough money to be profitable. You would think the cost of upkeep (and legal troubles) would outweigh any profit. In many places, you would be wrong.

It is amazing how economics theory works: if there is a demand there will be a supply.

In February I was at a quiz night for a local international school raising money for a habitat for humanity project. At the quiz night, they had several items raffled off. One of these items was a chest made for wood forested in a rainforest. It went for a lot of money as I stood by in awe at the supply which is depleting our world’s rainforest. For me, I would never want to buy such an item because it encourages deforestation of rainforests. It was not just me thinking along these lines; the MC joked that it could only appreciate in value as the wood to make it would soon be extinct or illegal.

Basically, buy buying the object, we create demand.

Begging (in terms of human trafficking) parallels this phenomenon. The process is only profitable so long as the children (generally the victims of begging trafficking rings are children or the disabled) are given money by passers by. Personally, I never offer money to the children in Phnom Penh or those I see traveling around. There is too much certainty in my head that they will not benefit from my pocket change. I will, however, off to buy them food or give them a little of what I am eating.

Side note: giving the peanuts you are given for free with you beer to street children is a sure way to not be offered any more peanuts at most bars in Phnom Penh.

I do my part to break down the cycle of supply demand; but often I wonder what harm I am doing to these children. Traffickers often demand an amount of money to be collected daily be the children; if they are not able to hand over that amount, the trafficker will beat them, leave them out in the cold, withhold the little comfort they have, or force them to continue working through the night. There are cases where children were even beaten or maimed (sometimes permanently) to make them look more pathetic and bring in more cash.

Is my failure to give money contributing to this problem? If so, and it is, how do you stop the cycle? Until it is not profitable trafficking for begging will continue, but as profitability (read demand) drops, the treatment of the children will suffer until it is stopped.

Finally, how do you mix children that work on the street into the equation? For example, children who sell flowers or shine shoes. Like their counterparts who simply ask for money, these children too are often controlled by trafficking rings. They rarely see the fruit of their labor and are subjected to the same treatment. Even the idea of maiming children sellers continues because the more pathetic and helpless they look, the more likely tourists and locals are to buy the overpriced goods or services.

Peace Corps Cambodia

Peace Corps Cambodia, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

Congratulations to the first group of Peace Corps volunteers in Cambodia! The swearing-in ceremony last week was really nicely done. It was odd, however, to be watching a ceremony and thinking of a time when life was so different, when I was so different.

Peace Corps says that it is the toughest job you will ever love and there is much truth in this. Although I definitely have my issues with the organization and think that more stringent screening process should be held for applications—I do believe that some volunteers are able to make a huge contribution to their villages or the people inside the villages. I also believe, that for many, the villages make an even bigger mark on the individual.

Meet Roma

and Lenuta:

These two children are the reason that I am a social worker, the reason I am in the counter-trafficking movement.

When I was a Peace Corps volunteer several years ago in a Moldova I worked at a center for abused and neglected children. The center, which opened while I was there, could take 30 kids for a 6 months period. The kids would spend about 8 hours a day at the shelter, either after school or during the day. They would eat, get medical attention, see a psychologist, do group work, play, have arts and crafts time, receive homework help, and more. These two children were at the shelter for 8 months. After the first 6 months they were 2 of only 5 children who it was deemed necessary that they stay for more help.

I was really close to them as they were in my play group and I had done the home visit. When I met Roma, he didn’t know what a hug was. He was 7. He and his sister were eating raw noodles as they had been left to care for themselves while their mother worked. Although they were only 11 months apart, they had two fathers—neither of whom had a presence in their lives.

Their mother sold them. One at a time, she sold them. The above picture is the last time I ever saw Lenuta. That day her hair had been cut and dyed. She came to us crying. And then, she was gone.

After the kids were sold, I had a temper tantrum. Or, that is the closest thing I can equate it too. I was mad. I had pictures, which became posters. The kids, ultimately, were returned to their mother because I was such a pain. Lenuta, the girl, was resold and has not been found. The boy, Roma, we did find. He is living with his paternal grandmother who promised to keep him in school and never return him to his mother.


Convictions, originally uploaded by coming2cambodia.

Over the past couple weeks, there has been a huge trial here in Cambodia on human trafficking (see press release below). The defendants were two German men, one Vietnamese man, and two Vietnamese woman. I knew people who attended the trial and were appalled by the overwhelming evidence of child molestation, trafficking, etc. While I was very happy that the people were all sentenced, I can’t help but wonder if this was more a media show. What about all the others? What about when its not commercial sex tourism, but it is all locals involved. I mean, yes, prosecution needs to happen and I am glad when it does– but it needs to happen more! Here is a little bit of information on prosecutions and convictions for human trafficking around the world.

Press Release

Iraq and human trafficking


This is an interesting short article about how people are getting trafficked into Iraq and forced to work.

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