Human Trafficking: A Call for Counselor Awareness and Action

By Stotts, Edward L., Jr.; Ramey, Luellen | Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Human Trafficking: A Call for Counselor Awareness and Action


Stotts, Edward L., Jr., Ramey, Luellen, Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development


The counseling profession has given little attention to human trafficking, a form of modern slavery that is one of the most damaging forms of social injustice that exists today. Focusing on victims within the United States, the authors provide advocacy suggestions, treatment recommendations, and directions for research for this population.

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Social justice issues have become increasingly important to the counseling profession as counselors realize that oppression and other forms of injustice have a tremendous impact on the well-being of their clients (Arredondo, 1999; Arredondo, Rosen, Rice, Perez, & Tovar-Gamero, 2005). These issues of social justice should be particularly relevant to humanistic counselors because humanism is an ideology that has consistently emphasized the importance of human actualization (Maslow, 1968; Matson, 1971; Rogers, 1951, 1957). When persons are held down by discriminatory societal practices, and most especially when they are focused on survival, they obviously cannot fulfill their potential as human beings.

One particular form of social injustice that robs millions of people of the chance to become actualized human beings is human trafficking. Although an estimated 27 million victims of human trafficking exist throughout the world today (Bales, 2005) and 18,000 to 20,000 are trafficked into the United States alone (U.S. Department of State, 2003), counselors are largely unaware of the extent of this social justice issue. This lack of awareness is worrisome because counselors may have unrecognized human trafficking victims in their caseloads. Therefore, it is the goal of this article to provide the counselor with an overview of human trafficking and an understanding of the extent of this problem within the United States. In addition, this article aims to help counselors identify victims by describing the signs and symptoms frequently exhibited by trafficking victims. This article provides the counselor with referral resources for reporting suspected trafficking victims, information regarding the benefits available to certified victims, and other suggested actions that are needed to address this population. Treatment recommendations are discussed, and, finally, the need for studies of this population is addressed.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING DEFINED

Human trafficking involves millions of people, most of whom are female and half of whom are minors (U.S. Department of State, 2006). Described as a form of modern-day slavery (Bales & Lize, 2005), human trafficking profoundly violates the rights of its victims. Human trafficking is quickly becoming one of the fastest growing businesses of organized crime (United Nations, 2002).

Bales and Lize (2005) explained that human trafficking is a means by which people are brought into, as well as maintained in, slavery and forced labor. These authors described human trafficking as the actual process of enslavement. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 contains a definition of human trafficking that is frequently used in the recent literature. This act defines human trafficking in a manner that captures its many elements and acknowledges the subtle strategies used by traffickers, including the bogus use of employment contracts and threats to harm a victim's family (U.S. Department of State, 2005). The TVPA criminalizes procuring and subjecting another human being to involuntary servitude, slavery, or forced labor and provides legal benefits and social services to victims. The act identifies two categories of human trafficking: sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Each of these categories involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion. These three conditions are described following a brief discussion of sex trafficking and labor trafficking.

SEX TRAFFICKING

Sex trafficking involves a commercial sex act that is induced by force, fraud, or coercion or a situation in which the victim is younger than 18 years (TVPA, 2000).

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