Human trafficking on the rise

They inhabit the facade of suburban neighborhoods and they fill the void between the walls, where they eat, drink and sleep. Some are servants, some are soldiers and some work behind closed doors. Toys are replaced with guns, families are replaced with masters and bodies with money.

From slums to suburban neighborhoods, they are there, inhabiting every continent.

Modern day slaves

The topic of modern day slavery has made its way to Oakland University through two events on campus, “Human Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery,” sponsored by Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, and “Not For Sale 2,” hosted by the OU Student Congress.

Human trafficking is defined by most governments as the industrialization, recruitment, transportation, harboring and receipt of persons for the purpose of exploitation. They can be child soldiers, servants, prostitutes or anyone who is forced to do any type of work.

Global numbers growing

Statistics from UNICEF, the U.N. and the U.S. government show human trafficking is increasing yearly. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it is the second largest criminal industry in the world, after the drug industry, and the fastest growing criminal industry.

The U.S. Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report in 2011 estimated the number of trafficked victims to be around 27 million.

Half of that number is children, according to the U.N.’s 2012 State of the World’s Children report.

Ryan King is an activist and co-founder of The Justice Project, a nonprofit organization based in Western Europe that works against human trafficking. He spoke at the Modern Day Slavery event at OU on March 8. He said the severity of the problem can be judged based off the few statistics that can be obtained.

“When we started the organization in 2006, the figures estimated 4 million children under the age of 14 globally in human trafficking,” King said. “You come now, five years later, and that number is at 13 million and growing … and we aren’t even talking about the whole number, just children.”

A difficult crime to track

The growth of human trafficking is because it is unique among organized crime, King said.

“(Human trafficking) is unique in the sense that it is one of the only non-centralized criminal issues. There is no way to say it is a problem in Asia  it is everywhere,” King said.

Of the estimated 27 million victims, the U.N. reports 80 percent to be victims of the sex trade. King said the sex trade is prevalent because it is the basis of the industrialization side of human trafficking.

“Like it or not, capitalism makes the world go, everybody is out to make a buck. In (the sex trade), it has become a very defined industry,” King said. “One girl can make a trafficker $150,000 to $200,000 a year.”

The process of becoming a victim varies, said King, from outright kidnapping to deceit. The victims are told about a job and hired, but when they arrive at the job they are kidnapped. In order to convince them to become prostitutes, the traffickers often threaten to kill their families.

For those who still refuse, King said traffickers will break them in by starting them off as strippers because it is easier for them to accept right away. Once they accustom them to that lifestyle, they will keep pushing their limits.

“If you can start them at a much less moral balance, then it is a lot easier of a transition (into prostitution),” he said.

King explained several steps to identify businesses or buildings that potentially traffic or house victims.

Massage parlors and strip clubs are major fronts to prostitution rings, but any business or even suburban area can house such activities. Red flags can be security cameras outside, extra locks, tinted windows and excess amounts of people going in and out.

A life-long healing process

A victim may be rescued, but the process of healing is just beginning.

Dr. Scott Pickett, professor of clinical psychology and a licensed clinical psychologist, said the psychological effects of a trafficked victim, whether it be sexual, violent or both, can be prolonged.

“Somebody who has experienced sexual assault is at increased risk for development of post-traumatic stress disorder,” he said. “After they have left the situation, they still have to potentially attempt to deal with those experiences for, I would say, probably a lifetime.”

Pickett said most people are disturbed after just one traumatic incident, and if there are multiple experiences, which is the case with child soldiers and sexual victims, the chance of PTSD is multiplied.

“Once you reach that level of having diagnosable PTSD, that is, in my book, pretty severe,” he said.

Though the numbers, facts and realities seem daunting, King said the only way there will ever be any hope is when people take a stand and get involved.

“We are all responsible to act on our convictions,” King said. “When we do not, it makes who we are a lie, and every little compromise in our standards only makes the world a more ethereal place and our personal existence less valuable. It is better to say I do not know how or be honest that you do not want to (help) than to try and lie to yourself and God.”

The 2012 Oakland Symposium will feature Pulitzer Prize winning author Sheryl WuDunn and Director of human trafficking clinic at the University of Michigan Bridgett Carr; both who will speak at “Not for Sale II,” a workshop that will discuss modern state of human trafficking.

For more information on human trafficking, how to help and The Justice Project, visit


Contact assistant campus editor Jordan Gonzalez via email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @el_Doctor23