“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

William Wilberforce​(Abolitionist, 1759-1833)

It’s sad but true: here in this country, people are being bought, sold, and smuggled like modern-day slaves. They are trapped in lives of misery—often beaten, starved, and forced to work as prostitutes or to take grueling jobs as migrant, domestic, restaurant, or factory workers with little or no pay. We’re working hard to stop human trafficking—not only because of the personal and psychological toll it takes on society, but also because it facilitates the illegal movement of immigrants across borders and provides a ready source of income for organized crime groups and even terrorists. (www.fbi.gov)

In July, 2013, a shocking human trafficking story hit the headlines. The FBI rescued 105 child sex-trafficking victims from all across the United States. The rescues were the product of Operation Cross Country, which is a part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative, a joint program by the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to fight child sex-trafficking in the United States.

The youngest of the victims was 9 years old. Another of the rescued victims told officials that she became involved in prostitution when she was 11. Organizations against human trafficking are all too knowledgeable about the pervasive reality of such cases.

“Many times the children that are taken in in these types of criminal activities are children that are disaffected, they are from broken homes, they may be on the street themselves,” FBI Acting Executive Assistant Director Kevin Perkins said, according to the network. “They are really looking for a meal, they are looking for shelter; they are looking for someone to take care of them.”

Another victim, identified as “Alex,” told interviewers she became a prostitute at the age of 16, when she felt she had no other options to feed and clothe herself. “At first it was terrifying,” Alex told interviewers, “and then you just kind of become numb to it. You put on a whole different attitude – like a different person. It wasn’t me. I know that. Nothing about it was me.” (www.huffingtonpost.com)

What is human trafficking? Children are the most vulnerable victims of this heinous crime, but they are not the only ones. Statistics about human trafficking confirm that human trafficking victims include men and women, and children of all ages.

“Trafficking in persons shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of threat, use of force or other means of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the receiving or giving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation.”

– Article 3 of the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Crime

Sixty-three years ago on December 2, the United States General Assembly adopted the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, naming December 2 the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. Since then, trafficking in persons (TIP) has increased dramatically. There are more human slaves in the world today than ever before in history. The International Organization of Migration (IOM) estimated that 800,000 people may be trafficked across international borders annually and thousands more are trafficked within the borders of their own countries. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that 12.3 million adults and children are in forced or bonded labor, including sexual servitude, at any time. Lastly, more than 80% of TIP victims are women, and over 50% are children.

The International Day for the Abolition of Slavery focuses on eradicating contemporary forms of slavery, including trafficking in persons, sexual exploitation, child labor, forced marriage, and the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict. The damage caused by slavery goes well beyond just stealing someone’s freedom. It plays a major role in the spread of HIV because 75-80% of human trafficking is for sex. According to the IOM, “The root causes of trafficking worldwide are the demand for cheap labor, sexual services, and some criminal activities. Major contributing factors include poverty, lack of economic opportunity, lack of social power, and lack of decision-making power over one’s personal life.”

The U.S. State Department estimates that there are some 27 million people being held in captivity as slaves around the world. At least 100,000 of them are victims of human trafficking in America.

Facts on human trafficking are hard to read; almost unbelievable in today’s society. Yet, the facts remain and need to be known. Awareness is the first step in the fight to end human trafficking in the U.S., and across the globe.

“Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others. As defined under U.S. federal law, victims of human trafficking include children involved in the sex trade, adults age 18 or over who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into different forms of “labor or services,” such as domestic workers held in a home, or farm-workers forced to labor against their will. The factors that each of these situations have in common are elements of force, fraud, or coercion that are used to control people.  Then, that control is tied to inducing someone into commercial sex acts, or labor or services.  Numerous people in the field have summed up the concept of human trafficking as “compelled service.”  Every year, human traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits by victimizing millions of people around the world, and here in the United States.  Human trafficking is considered to be one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world.” (www.polarisproject.org)

PCI is committed to ending slavery in our lifetime though economic empowerment, access to education, and poverty solutions. PCI has recently created a manual on Trafficking in Person (TIP), discussing the prominence of this issue in Ethiopia. Considering the high diasporas and migrations rates of Ethiopia, TIP persists at higher levels than other African countries. Not only does TIP destabilize local labor markets, it causes a shift in national population, affecting the market and economy. PCI’s manual describes the relationship between TIP and various vulnerabilities of Ethiopia, protection of TIP victims and prevention of TIP. By raising awareness of TIP and providing education on the prevention, protection and prosecution of TIP, PCI is helping to end human trafficking around the world and give people a chance for a better future.