human-traffickingWhen most people think of travel they picture sunny beaches or climbing the Eiffel Tower while infused with a sense happiness and wonder.  The truth is, that while travel is most often wonderful and exciting, occasionally you are also exposed to the darker side of life. To date, I’ve been lucky in my travels.  Except for one incident of robbery (which was my fault) on a night train from Berlin to Krakow and one incident of inappropriate groping (left the guy with a broken nose) I’ve not really experienced anything truly bad in my travels.  The same can not be said for my friend Wes (better known as Johnny Vagabond).

Last month Wes, a generally chilled out human being, posted a story about how he almost murdered someone.  Knowing Wes, I figured the title of the post was a joke and that the story he told would involve excessive alcohol and falling down a mountain, out of a boat or some similar form of slapstick antics.  How wrong I was.  Instead, Wes told the story of how an employee of the hotel he was staying at offered him the services of an 8-year-old girl for the evening.

Yes, you read that right.  An 8-year-old girl.

Unlike most people, Wes actually made an effort to do something about it.  Read the results of his efforts here.  Unfortunately, Human trafficking is a sadly under-discussed, but all-to prevalent issue which travelers (and people at home) probably come into contact with more than they realize.

Human Trafficking Statistics

Here are just a few stats (note: all numbers are estimates because there is no way to know for sure what the numbers are):

  • An estimated 2-4 Million people are trafficked every year world-wide, 14,500 – 17,500 of those victims are trafficked into the United States
  • There are approximately 20.9 Million victims of trafficking world-wide as of 2012 (more than during 400 years of transatlantic slave-trade), 1.5 million of them are in the US
  • Approximately 50% of those trafficked are children
  • An estimated 80% of trafficked women and children are forced into the sex industry
  • Average life span of a victim is 3 to 7 years

The sad fact is, Human Trafficking is a $32 BILLION dollar a year industry and is on the rise world-wide and growing fast in the USA.  In fact, profits from Human Trafficking have outpaced those of arms dealing and, within a few years, will pass drugs.  The reason for this is that with drugs, you use them once and they’re gone.  Trafficked individuals are an ongoing source of income.  Additionally, penalties for participating in Human Trafficking are significantly less than those in dealing drugs so the risk/reward ratio is much better.

The Price of a Human

The profit from Human Trafficking varies widely from country to country, but it’s easy to see why it’s much more prevalent in Asia than anywhere else in the world.  For example, in Thailand, you can buy a child from Cambodia for $300 (with part of that usually going to the parents) and expect to earn $45,000 a year from them. A boy from China would earn a trafficker over $14,000 while a girl from Mozambique would only bring $2.  If you want to fight a war, you can traffic a child soldier from Mali for $600 and if you have a big farm in India, it might make more sense to buy a child for $45 than a buffalo for $350.

Sexual experience also matters with virgins bringing double the price ($5,000) as non-virgins in Iraq.  Similarly, age matters with a North Korean woman in her 20’s bringing in over $1000 while a woman in her 40’s brings less than half that.

Lest you think it’s only people in developing nations who are buying and selling, you should know that in Ontario it costs almost $6,000 to buy a teenage girl from Quebec and in Italy, a pimp could pay up to $78,000 for a woman from Nigeria.

These sad numbers go on and on, like a grocery list.  It’s disturbing and disgusting when you realize that the products being bought and sold are people.

Human Trafficking is not a “3rd World” Problem

When most people think of Human Trafficking, if they think of it at all, they consider it to be a “3rd World” problem.  This makes sense, because the vast majority of people who are trafficked start their journey in a developing nation (most likely in Asia or Latin America).  However, Human Trafficking is most definitely a “1st World” problem because to make money, you have to go where the money is.  This means that the people who are being trafficked are either funneled into developed areas like the USA or Europe or into regions frequented by tourists from those nations (i.e. sex tourism in Thailand).

The vast majority of the profit from this $32 Billion Dollar industry comes from deep western pockets.

What Can You Do?

Whether you’re at home or abroad, if you encounter someone who you think might be a victim of human trafficking, there are a few things you can and should do.

  1. If it’s safe for them (and you) ask them if they’re ok or if they need help.  Make sure you don’t put them or yourself at risk with your contact.  Traffickers are unlikely to be understanding when their “property” is chatting instead of working.
  2. If you’re in an area where law enforcement is trustworthy, report it as soon as possible and provide as much information as possible including photos if you can get them (again, without putting anyone at risk).
  3. If you are not in an area where law enforcement would be likely to react, get online and search for a Trafficking organization in your area.  There are hundreds of Human Trafficking awareness groups around the world and if you reach out to them they’ll likely be able to point you in the right direction.
  4. If you’ve not encountered Human Trafficking but still want to get involved, there are hundreds of programs you can support.  They range from giant multi-national NGOs to small grass-roots efforts.  A bit of online research should help you find a program in an area with a mission you want to support.

The most important thing is to do SOMETHING.  Even if you feel it won’t make a difference, even if you think your report won’t be followed up on, you *have* to report it.  Think of how you would feel if it were you or your child.  Wouldn’t you want someone to at least try to help?  Even if your report doesn’t lead to an arrest or a save, it does give just a bit more visibility to the problem and the more visible the problem the more resources will go towards fixing it.