Human Trafficking

Read more from the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery. It is also a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 25 million people around the world. According to the Polaris Project, which works to end human trafficking, there are no places exempt from this heinous crime, and there are no persons who are safe from entrapment. The trafficking victim might be a runaway or kidnapped girl forced into prostitution at a truck stop or an undocumented immigrant man discovered in a restaurant kitchen, stripped of his passport and held against his will. All trafficking victims share one essential experience: the loss of freedom.

Because of the clandestine nature of the crime, it is difficult to determine the number of trafficking victims in the United States. In 2019, the Polaris Project Trafficking Hotline saw a nearly 20 percent increase in the number of victims and survivors who contacted them directly about their own situations. Learn more about Human Trafficking statistics.

COVID-19 has generated conditions that increased the number of people who experienced vulnerabilities to human trafficking and interrupted existing and planned anti-trafficking interventions. Governments across the world diverted resources toward the pandemic, often at the expense of anti-trafficking efforts. In 2019, Global Law Enforcement Data reported 118,000 identified victims of human trafficking.

Defining Terms:

Human Trafficking – The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons states that “trafficking in persons shall mean 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. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

Shalom - Prayer to End Trafficking

     Click image to view or print the pdf of the prayer.

Who are the victims of human trafficking/modern day slavery?

According to the 2018 U.N. Global Report on the Trafficking in Persons, 80 percent of all detected trafficking victims are women and children. In terms of the different types of trafficking, sexual exploitation and forced labor are the most prominent. The UN report shows that trafficking can have numerous other forms, including victims forced to act as beggars, into sham marriages, to commit benefit fraud by applying for benefits, into pornography or into organ removal, among others.

The Polaris Project has a resource on how to recognize the signs of a trafficking victim.

What are the International Laws that criminalize trafficking?

The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (ratified by general Assembly 2000) has three main purposes:

  1. To prevent and combat trafficking in persons, paying particular attention to women and children;
  2. To protect and assist the victims of such trafficking, with full respect for their human rights; and
  3. To promote cooperation among States Parties in order to meet those objectives.

The number of countries that have criminalized most forms of trafficking as set out in the U.N. Trafficking in Persons Protocol has increased from 33 in 2003 to 158 in 2016. Such an exponential increase is welcomed, and it has helped to assist the victims and to prosecute the traffickers. Unfortunately, the average number of convictions remains low. Findings show that there is a close correlation between the length of time the trafficking law has been on the statute books and the conviction rate. This is a sign that it takes time, as well as resources and expertise, to chase down the criminals.

Who is most vulnerable to human trafficking?

People escaping from war and persecution are particularly vulnerable to becoming victims of trafficking. The urgency of their situation might lead them to make dangerous migration decisions. The rapid increase in the number of Syrian victims of trafficking in persons following the start of the conflict there, for instance, seems to be one example of how these vulnerabilities play out.

Conflicts create favorable conditions for trafficking in persons by generating a mass of vulnerable people escaping violence. Furthermore, armed groups engage in trafficking in the territories in which they operate, and they have recruited thousands of children for the purpose of using them as combatants in various past and current conflicts. While women and girls tend to be trafficked for marriages and sexual slavery, men and boys are typically exploited in forced labor in the mining sector, as porters, soldiers and slaves.

Learn More

The School Sisters of Notre Dame help sponsor the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking initiative and the Stop Trafficking! Anti-Human Trafficking e-newsletter.

Polaris Project
• Video: Human trafficking basics
The Typology of Modern Slavery in the U.S.
Annual Trafficking in Persons Report
List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor
Human Trafficking in America’s Schools
State Report Cards
Just Act: Child Labor Series
Human Trafficking and Historical Trauma in Indigenous Communities

What does this have to do with our faith commitment?

Now that you know, here’s what you can do: