How does human trafficking work?


The International Labour Organization states that over 40 million humans are trafficked around the world and that human trafficking is estimated to be a $150 billion industry. Many of us shake our heads at these statistics as we sit comfortably on our couches and sip a $5 latte, and we wonder how someone could find themselves ensnared in a human trafficking scheme. We often quickly reflect on the reality of these 40 million victims then move on with our lives, thinking that we could never find ourselves in such a situation.

The truth, however, is that anyone can find themselves a victim of human trafficking: those living in poverty and those living in wealth, those from a high socioeconomic status or those from a low socioeconomic status. People are trapped in the sticky web of trafficking all around us because of the many means that traffickers use to recruit their victims--means that are seemingly harmless on the surface but are the cause of great destruction and heartache when you look deeper.

Photo Credit: International Justice Mission

Photo Credit: International Justice Mission

While violence, threats and blackmail are some of the means used to trap individuals, traffickers are calculative and manipulative and can use subtler, more deceitful means as well. They watch for the struggling, stalking them like a lion until they can pounce and take them as their prey. Oftentimes, they look for the people who long for a better life, who are unable to make ends meet, who are stuck in an unstable home life, or who have a history of abuse. They then swoop in with false promises of an improved lifestyle, a high-paying job, or a stable, loving relationship, and once they’ve snared their victim in their well-disguised trap, they sexually exploit them or force them into horrific labor conditions.

Over 40 million humans are trafficked around the world in what is estimated to be a $150 billion industry.

A21 lists advertising a fake job as the number one way traffickers recruit victims. They target those individuals who are desperately working to make ends meet by advertising a high-paying job. The individuals then jump at the opportunity that will allow them to finally provide for their families, and instead, find themselves robbed of all human rights and laboring in a situation worse than they could’ve imagined.

Because of these misleading means, it’s easy to see how unwitting individuals can be caught in a human trafficking scheme. Unfortunately, once an individual is caught, it is very difficult for them to find a way of escape. Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, and traffickers will go to great lengths to ensure that they can continue in their lucrative business.

When they transport individuals to a foreign country or across national borders, traffickers usually tightly control a victim’s identification and travel documentation to ensure that the victim does not have a chance to speak for themselves or use the documentation to assist them in escaping. Violence and threats of violence directed at family and friends is unfortunately another way that traffickers keep their victims from escape. They then make a point to place all the blame for the violence and harm caused onto the victim. This causes the victim to feel humiliated, and worthless.

Just as the slaves before and after the American Civil War were financially, physically and emotionally indebted to their owners, so are victims of human trafficking often forced to be financially, physically and emotionally indebted to their traffickers.

Some traffickers even target individuals in foreign countries who are desperate to escape persecution. The trafficker reaches out to these individuals, promises to help them and creates an unpayable debt. Individuals victimized in this way are often financially tied to their trafficker through the debt that the trafficker has guaranteed they can never rise out of.

Victims who may not have family or friends being threatened, or who may not be drowning in unfair debt may instead be stuck in fear and distrust. There are hundreds of stories of victims who were trafficked by their own family members, their friends, their employers, or their business partners--people that they all believed were trustworthy. But then they were sold or trafficked by the very ones they thought they could trust. This develops a paralyzing lack of trust in others as they will not know who they can turn to for help and safety.

Photo Credit: Invisible Children

Photo Credit: Invisible Children

Human trafficking truly is modern day slavery. Just as the slaves before and after the American Civil War were financially, physically and emotionally indebted to their owners, so are victims of human trafficking often forced to be financially, physically and emotionally indebted to their traffickers. We have to realize that anyone can find themselves conned into a human trafficking scheme because traffickers are smart and use such a wide variety of methods to capture and keep their victims.

Thankfully, however, organizations that Dressember partners with are working hard to raise awareness of these trafficking means and bring traffickers down. These organizations are daily striving to provide resources that enable individuals to spot trafficking traps and are raising funds to aid victims in escaping their traffickers. Because of the efforts of these organizations, many victims have been rescued, and we can read and learn from their stories today.


It is not too late to be a part of the impact!

Right now, thousands of people around the world are taking on the creative challenge of wearing a dress or tie in the month of December. The reason? To bring freedom to the 40+ million around the world still trapped in slavery. Your donation or participation in Dressember 2018 is part of a movement to end human trafficking for good.

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About the Author

Megan Shupp.png

Galaxy tights, brightly patterned socks and a steaming cup of tea in her T. Rex mug often accompany Megan Shupp when she sits down to write. After graduating from Thomas Edison State University with her Bachelor in English and earning a Graduate Certificate in Editing from UC Berkeley, she is excited to use her passion for writing and stories to join Dressember in their fight against slavery.