More slaves today than at any other time in history

Flower in barbed wire fence

There are more slaves today than at any point in history. They labor in fields and factories, under brutal “owners” who threaten violence if they try to escape. They work on construction sites or in homes for families, virtually imprisoned. They are forced to work on the streets as child beggars, fight in wars as child soldiers, and toil on farms, in traveling sales crews, and in restaurants and hotels. Some are forced to work in brothels and strip clubs, or for escort and massage services. They are often held far from their homes, with no money, no connections, and no way to ask for help. They fear the consequences if they fail to earn their daily quota.[1]

Slavery is illegal in every country in the modern world. Nonetheless, there are about 35.8 million victims worldwide,[3] with 70 percent of them female and nearly one-third children.[2]

The problem is so severe it warranted a presidential proclamation, declaring January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Today this modern-day form of slavery, also known as human trafficking, is one of the largest and fastest growing criminal industries in the world.[4] Human trafficking refers to the sale of adults and children into both commercial sexual servitude and forced or bonded labor, and involves the recruiting, harboring, receipt, or transportation of persons for some exploitative purpose.[5]

Human trafficking happens every where, in every part of the world. The United States formally abolished slavery 150 years ago with the passing of the 13th. Regardless, cases involving sexual exploitation and bonded or forced labor are prevalent, with estimates as high as 50,000 people being enslaved.[6] Cases of human trafficking have been reported in all fifty states. The United States is also a source and transit country for human trafficking, and is considered one of the top destination points for victims of child trafficking and exploitation,[7] and U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are trafficked within the country. Cases of human trafficking have been reported in all 50 states.

The Advocates for Human Rights plays a major role in fighting sex trafficking. The Advocates worked to draft and help pass Minnesota’s 2013 Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Youth Act. The law, in effect in Minnesota beginning August 1, 2014, drastically changes the way in which Minnesota views prostitution and responds to sexually exploited youth. Using delinquency proceedings to punish prostituted children has ended in Minnesota, and a new victim-centered response to meet with needs is being established.

The Advocates also worked to draft and help pass the law’s precursor, the 2011 Safe Harbor Act. Not satisfied that the 2011 law had left out 16- and 17-year-olds, The Advocates zeroed in on expanding the law’s protections to all children under 18, and drafted the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force‘s 2013 legislative agenda, leading to the 2013 law expanding protections.

The Advocates also participated in creating a victim-centered response — referred to as the “No Wrong Door Model” — and published a report on the process, entitled Safe Harbor: Fulfilling Minnesota’s Promise to Protect Sexually Exploited Youth.

The Advocates is now focused on developing educational resources for community, social service providers, and teachers. It is pinpointing best practices for identifying victims and preventing this abuse, as well as cataloging referrals and resources available under the law. In addition, The Advocates is providing public education on trafficking, and is working throughout Minnesota in collaboration with the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office, the Minnesota entity charged with training law enforcement agencies and prosecutors on the law’s new approach to trafficking.

Setting the stage for Minnesota’s paradigm shift was The Advocates 2008 report, Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota, which included recommendations for responding to sex trafficking. Paramount was the human rights principle that people who are trafficked should be identified as victims, not criminals. The report emphasized that trafficking victims require specialized services, not detention and prosecution.

“Our ultimate goal is to bring the sale of people to an end; it must cease to be normal, acceptable, or profitable,” said Beatriz Menanteau, a staff attorney with The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program.

By: The Advocates for Human Rights’ Emily Farell and Susan L. Banovetz


[1] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report, 2009, http://www.womenfound.org/people-not-property-zero-tolerance-for-trafficking/

[2] United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2014 Global Trafficking in Persons Report, http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/glotip/GLOTIP14_ExSum_english.pdf.

[3] Walk Free Foundation, 2014 Global Slavery Index, http://www.globalslaveryindex.org/.

[4] UNHCR. Conference puts focus on human trafficking, fastest growing criminal industry. Oct. 11, 2010. http://www.unhcr.org/4cb315c96.html.

[5] The Advocates for Human Rights, “Sex Trafficking Needs Assessment for the State of Minnesota,” http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/uploads/report_final.10.13.08.pdf.

[6] Clawson, Heather J., Nicole Dutch, Amy Solomon, and Lisa Goldblatt Grace, “Human Trafficking Into and Within the United States: A Review of the Literature,” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2009. http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/07/humantrafficking/litrev/.

[7] UNICEF USA, Child Trafficking, http://www.unicefusa.org/mission/protect/trafficking.

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