When we talk about human trafficking it is easy for our minds to assume that we are taking about sex trafficking. Further, we often assume sex trafficking entails one person exploiting another person for profit. We can confine this understanding of trafficking as Person “A” selling Person “B” for sex, when in reality human trafficking has many forms. If we want to address the multiple facets of this billion-dollar industry, we must change our perceptions and debunk prevalent myths. The first necessary step is understanding the various forms of human trafficking and how each form is exploitative.
The United Nations’ Office of Drug and Crime define human trafficking as, “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit.” The United Nations goes on to explain that human trafficking has many forms, including, “exploitation in the sex, entertainment and hospitality industries, and as domestic workers or in forced marriages.” Although The 2020 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons shows 50% of detected victims in 2018 were trafficked for sexual exploitation, it is essential to note that 38% were exploited for forced labor, 6% were subjected to forced criminal activity, 1% were coerced into begging, and smaller percentages into forced marriages, organ removal, and other purposes. While these statistics help highlight our mistaken perception that human trafficking only incorporates sex trafficking, it is important to note that human trafficking goes underreported, so these statistics might not capture all cases of human trafficking. By opening up our understanding of the many forms of human trafficking, we can better aid and assist victims.
Furthermore, The National Human Trafficking Hotline, helps to supplement our understanding of human trafficking by explaining that it is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 24.9 million people around the world by means of stealing freedom for profit. It is fraudulent, coercive, and denies people their basic rights to liberty and autonomy. Once again, it is important that we update our personal perception of human trafficking to incorporate other means of profiting from a person’s lack of freedom and consequently expand our perceptions of traffickers. We also must understand that groups, organizations, and businesses may be engaging in human trafficking.
In October 2020, two Bartonsville men and a company that ran hotels in Stroudsburg and Bartonsville were convicted of sex and drug trafficking offenses by a jury in federal court in Scranton, Pennsylvania. During the trial in Scranton, prosecutors presented testimony showing that the Howard Johnson Hotel in Bartonsville was a “safe haven for criminal activity between 2011 and 2019.” This included human trafficking, prostitution, drug crimes, and assault. This case highlights that the crime of trafficking is not just Person “A” selling Person “B” for sex. Here, a hotel was held criminally liable for sex trafficking and drug trafficking charges.
As a whole, our view of human trafficking must evolve to be more inclusive of victim’s varying experiences, and that there are numerous forms and methods of trafficking. If we succumb to the myth that human trafficking only involves sex trafficking and sex trafficking is limited to one person selling another person for sex, then we will miss the important narratives from victims who have been trafficked by larger organizations or have been exploited by other means. As a society we must continue to challenge these myths in order to better aid victims who have been coerced, assaulted, threatened or manipulated. It is then that we have a better chance of punishing traffickers and providing justice to victims.
This piece is part of our first-year law student blog series. Congratulations to author Samantha Newman on being chosen!