Ending Human Trafficking: Health Workers Help to Identify Victims: Global Problem Reaches Inside U.S. Borders

By Johnson, Teddi Dineley | The Nation's Health, October 2010 | Go to article overview

Ending Human Trafficking: Health Workers Help to Identify Victims: Global Problem Reaches Inside U.S. Borders


Johnson, Teddi Dineley, The Nation's Health


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FRESH FROM Eastern Europe, "Anna" arrived in the United States in response to an ad for a mail-order bride. But soon after accepting a proposal of marriage, things fell apart. Her so-called fiance--a U.S. citizen involved in a crime ring--trafficked her for sex.

After three years of forced prostitution, Anna sought services at a domestic violence shelter in Illinois. Thanks to a shelter employee who had recently participated in a training program aimed at identifying and helping victims of human trafficking, the young woman was brought to I safety.

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A year later, Anna--not her real name--remains safe, but the global battle against human trafficking continues. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, hundreds of thousands of adults and children are trafficked each year across borders around the world, including the United States. Some of the victims are lured from their homes with promises of jobs in more prosperous countries. Many arrive at their destinations to have their identifying documents confiscated by traffickers who tell them their families back home will be harmed if I they try to I escape.

After drug dealing, human trafficking is tied with arms dealing as the second-largest criminal industry in the world, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. And with profits totaling about $32 billion yearly, it is the fastest growing.

In the decade since the United States enacted its Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the global community adopted its own standards, 116 countries have enacted legislation to prohibit human trafficking, defined as a form of slavery in which victims are subjected to force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. Traffickers typically keep victims out of public view and instill fear in them to keep them enslaved.

More than 12 million people are working in forced or bonded labor and forced prostitution around the globe, according to a report released in June by the U.S. Department of State.

"This human rights abuse is universal, and no one should claim immunity from its reach or from the responsibility to confront it," said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton while announcing the release of the agency's 10th annual "Tracking in Persons Report," which outlines the continuing challenges posed by human trafficking across the globe. "Ending this global scourge is an important policy priority for the United States. This fluid phenomenon continues to affect cultures, communities and countries spanning the globe."

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The report ranks 177 countries on their efforts to comply with the minimum standards set forth by the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The report gave the lowest marks to 13 countries, including Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe. The report also ranks those in full compliance with the standards, such as Austria, Ireland, Italy, South Korea, Spain and Sweden--as well as the United States, which has created federal programs specifically to address the issue.

Trafficking in America: The battle at home

In the United States, cases of human trafficking have been reported in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The State Department estimates that between 14,500 and 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each year, but the scope of the problem is difficult to measure because of the invisibility of the victims and high levels of under-reporting.

Trafficking occurs in a range of occupations and settings in the United States, but victims are not always easily identifiable. Victims who are U.S. citizens are most commonly involved in the sex trade, while the majority of foreign victims in the United States are in labor trafficking, toiling as maids, health aides, salon workers, construction workers, farm hands and other laborers.

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