Human trafficking drives victims to shackles

Illegal exploitation of forced sex and laborers brings tragedy within our borders.
December 10, 2009

Human trafficking is a rapidly growing, global, criminal justice and human rights issue. Human rights organizations estimate that between 600,000 and 4 million people are trafficked globally each year, a criminal enterprise managed by organized and transnational syndicates.
Various factors both push organizers and pull victims into human trafficking. Poverty, illiteracy, lack of awareness, unemployment and deficient legal and justice systems all contribute. It is primarily the perception of opportunity for greater livelihood in the destination countries which invites some victims.
Human trafficking is typically divided into two categories: sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Sex trafficking involves forcefully engaging young women and girls into prostitution in which earnings are diverted to the criminal structure. Labor trafficking aims to entrap individuals (normally adult males) into bonded or exploited labor. There are also reported cases of trafficking for organ trade.
From various studies and investigations, it has become apparent that sex and labor trafficking do exist in U.S. Referring to the growing problem, speakers at an October conference at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, explained that “Either we don’t understand or ignore. Human trafficking is very much present in the U.S.”
Here, human trafficking is a federal crime, but most states, including Minnesota, have legislation to address the issue. But skepticism remains about the achievements of legal and judicial intervention.
According to joint estimates by the Department of State and various human rights organizations, 14,500 to 17,500 individuals are trafficked annually into the U.S. from other countries. There also exists internal, or domestic, trafficking as well. The number of victims, typically children, is a tragic 200,000 annually.
For international trafficking into the U.S., in most cases, individuals are offered a lucrative American job, only to arrive into an exploitative situation. In some cases, victims also do pay a significant amount of money to the trafficking syndicates to facilitate the travel to the U.S.
Mexico, China, Thailand, El Salvador and Guatemala top the list of victim national origins. They are also brought from European countries like Moldova, Hungary, Ukraine and Belarus.
The annual number of victims rescued and perpetrators brought to justice reflects a lack of attention paid to human trafficking. While U.S. federal law adopted in 2000 provides life imprisonment for traffickers, only 196 federal cases have brought conviction to 419 persons according to the Department of Justice. Prosecutor training is also insufficient.
Both sex and labor trafficking is reportedly present in Minnesota. The state Human Trafficking Task Force defines the crime as “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, enticement, provision obtaining or receipt of any person by any means for the purpose or facilitation of sexual or economic exploitation.”
A 2008 Department of Public Safety report, entitled “Human Trafficking in Minnesota,” reported trafficking as a growing problem. The victims of labor trafficking come from Mexico, China, Guatemala, Russia, and a variety of South American, Asian and African countries.
Between 2004 and 2007, traffickers in Minnesota served 154 labor victims and 637 sex victims, as reported by the Advocates for Human Rights in October 2008 .
A group of students in a Human Rights Advocacy class at the University of Minnesota investigated Midwest meat packing industries as part of the course. They observed that a significant number of the labor trafficking and forced labor victims are migrant workers. The captives reportedly do not dare report their exploitation to law enforcement agencies, fearing arrest, deportation and harassment by the syndicate. The New York Times explained that victims are “taught, trained and manipulated by their exploiters not to cooperate with nor trust law enforcement .”
Minneapolis Attorney Angela Bortel, who has worked on the issue, observed that Minnesota has a unique history of responding to human rights violations. She explained that the State mechanism has already mobilized its resources to prevent human trafficking and prosecute the perpetrators. Many nongovernmental organizations are also working to raise public awareness on the plight of trafficked humans.
A victim of labor trafficking from El Salvador who worked at a tomato farm in California recently traveled to the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He told students that awareness, common sense and a little action could break the chain of human trafficking and protect a victim from an exploitative situation.
So, be mindful of the produce and meat you purchase or the night clubs or massage parlors you may visit to ensure that your consumption does not enable the violent exploitation of human beings.

Uttam Das welcomes comments at udas@mndaily.com.

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