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Slavery is the process of assigning property value to humans.  For many Americans, the notion of slavery conjures images from a time centuries ago.  This is in some ways accurate; slavery has existed in history since the earliest written records.  Unfortunately, it has always been a component of human existence and it persists to this day.  Many people, however, are simply not aware of it.  For instance, consider human trafficking.  Every year, thousands of individuals around the world are bought, sold, and exploited. 

The primary for target of human traffickers are women and children (Kyckelhahn et al., 2009).  Women are targeted and trafficked as a component of sex slavery.  Victims are often homeless, runaway teens, refugees, or drug addicts.  Their exploitations involve pornography, non-consensual sexual relations, performing at strip clubs, and servitude.  Trafficking of women for the purposes of sex slavery accounts for over 83% of all human trafficking (Kyckelhahn et al., 2009). 

Men and children are targeted and trafficked for their utility as reliable source of labor (Department of Health and Human Services, n.d.).  These individuals are transported against their will and exploited in multiple ways.  It is estimated that the exploitation of men and children generates billions in revenue every year.  Reports indicate that over 10,000 trafficked men and children are actively indentured in the United States (Human Rights Center, 2004).  A growing form of child exploitation is the illicit adoption of kidnapped children, usually between developing states and developed states.

Bonded labor is another form of human trafficking (Department of Health and Human Services, n.d.).  Those who are trafficked for bonded labor are often found in the developing world.  Individuals who take loans that cannot be repaid are forced to work their debts off at very low rates.  The most troubling aspect of bonded labor is that an individual's debt can often transfer to next of kin; in effect, many people are born into slavery.

As an industry, human trafficking is the second largest criminal threat facing the world (Kyckelhahn et al., 2009).  It is expected that human trafficking will soon surpass the threat faced by drug trafficking.  Recent estimates report that the human trafficking industry is a $50 billion annual business (International Organization for Migration, 2009).  The industry has very close ties to drug trafficking and illegal arms trafficking.  Intelligence reports indicate that these industries are able to function as a cohesive agent, thereby increasing their trafficking capacity and information passing systems (humantrafficking.org, n.d.). 


Human trafficking is a threat for many different reasons.  The notion of slavery itself has strong ethical and moral implications.  As a society, no state should permit human trafficking.  For the United States, human trafficking goes against everything that our nation was built upon.  Furthermore, human trafficking itself and the human trafficking industry's close relationship with other criminal industries is a national security concern (Kyckelhahn et al., 2009).  The systems that are designed to bring trafficked individuals into the country and maintain their status raises serious concerns of illegal access by other subversive groups or individuals.

Clearly, the study of human trafficking is essential given the social, ethical, and security concerns.  A thorough analysis of the relevant literature and a formal policy recommendation is presented for review.

Relevant Literature

There is a wealth of information available regarding human trafficking around the globe.  The relevant literature that focuses on human trafficking within the US is presented below as a basis of support for policy recommendations.

The US Role in Human Trafficking

The human trafficking system consists of three parts.  First, traffickers must locate their victims and bring them into the system.  Second, traffickers must transport the individuals to areas of demand.  Third, traffickers have to maintain their status within the destination area. 

The United States is primarily a receiver of trafficked individuals.  Their journey often begins in developing nations in Eastern Europe and Asia.  According to humantraffickin.org, approximately 17,000 individuals are trafficked to the US every year (humantrafficking.org, n.d.).  The primary profile of those who are trafficked consists of women and children.  Most of the women are sex slaves and the children are illicitly adopted.  The state within the US with the highest number of sex slaves is Atlanta, Georgia (One Voice, n.d.).

Current Legislation Against Human Trafficking

The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution explicitly outlaws slavery in the US (Cornell University Law School, n.d.).  In an effort to uphold the law, the federal government has already passed legislation specifically addressing the issue of human trafficking in the US.  The cornerstone legislation is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, which aims to address the trafficking issue by increasing public awareness, fostering economic alternatives for job positions to reduce the appeal of trafficked labor, and a focus on keeping young individuals in school and out of the hands of traffickers (Public Law, 2000).

In addition, the federal government has set up a unique department as a component of the US Department of State that is tasked with addressing the issue of brides that are trafficked.  The department, called the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, has taken the initiative of completing criminal background checks on all foreign brides and also providing each bride with information regarding human trafficking (humantrafficking.org, n.d.).

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Although the federal government has made an attempt at addressing the human trafficking issue directly, only half of the states in the US have legislation against human trafficking.  Furthermore, the states that have criminalized human trafficking have punishments that are not as strong as those allowed by the federal law (humantrafficking.org, n.d.). 

Lastly, many shelters supporting women who are trafficking victims have begun to infiltrate society (humantrafficking.org, n.d.).  These shelters are important in the fight against human trafficking because they provide women with a support system.  Victims who are identified and freed can rely on these shelters for services such as housing and counseling.

The Mindset of Trafficking Victims

To many individuals in the general public, human trafficking is a horrible tragedy.  However, for some who are active victims of the trafficking trade, it is an opportunity (humantrafficking.org, n.d.).  Although this is surprising, those who think this way are somewhat justified in their mindset.  If they were to remain in their native country, they would likely be forced to do the same acts.  At least in the US, they are provided with some level of safety and security.  For instance, consider a trafficked bride.  This individual is able to come to the US, pursue employment, and have a more stable and safe life (humantrafficking.org, n.d.).  The marriage may not be founded on love, but for many brides it is well worth it.  Clearly, this mindset generates some significant challenges.  If women don't feel as though they are victims, then they will not respond to any intervention.

Policy Analysis and Development

Based upon all of the information presented above, there are several important points to study before making a policy recommendation.

Understanding the role that the US plays in human trafficking system is essential to developing a targeted policy to address the issue.  As a receiver of trafficking victims, the US needs to take a defensive approach on the domestic front.  As it currently stands, this domestic approach occurs in two key ways.  Foreign brides are given pamphlets and when law enforcement encounters trafficking, the federal government prosecutes.  These methods are entirely ridiculous.  Handing somebody and pamphlet and asking them if they are a victim of trafficking will not work.  First, criminals are smarter than that.  The trafficking victims likely have family in their home country that will be harmed if they escape the system.  Second, some trafficking victims don't want to leave the system; they are blinded by opportunity and will electively indenture themselves.  For the US to turn a blind face to this issue is unacceptable.

The federal governments' current legislation, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, only accounts for a limited amount of trafficking issues.  The language in the bill is geared towards a formal, classic slavery type of trafficking victim.  It does not offer any protection for modern trafficking victims.  First, the Protection Act of 2000 does not include a statement on human rights.  This statement on human rights should include a reiteration of the rights provided for by the Constitution and Bill of Rights of the United States.  Second, the legislation does not adequately address the economic issue of trafficking.  If businesses relying on trafficking victims had a legal alternative to cheap labor, there would less demand for illegal trafficking.  Third, the legislation does a very poor job of addressing the social perspective and understanding of the trafficking issue.  Most people in the public do not understand what human trafficking is or what sex trafficking actually entails.  Fourth, the legislation does nothing to promote the criminalization of human trafficking at the state level.  This is an essential component to the fight against human trafficking.

The mindset of a trafficking victim also presents very serious challenges.  First, behaviorally, the only way that a trafficking victim will electively leave the system is with excellent counseling.  The individuals have to be convinced that their perceptions are wrong.  Second, individuals that are trafficking victims need to have an avenue for amnesty.  As it currently stands, if a trafficking bride leaves her relationship before she becomes a citizen of the US, she is deported back to her home country.  In this system, it is not reasonable to expect any trafficking victim to voluntarily object to their treatment.

There are several ways that US policy on the federal level can be improved to adequately address the issue of human trafficking.  Current legislation needs to be enhanced in the following ways.  First, the upgraded legislation should include provisions for a thorough screening of foreign brides by trained professionals to identify human trafficking victims that are forced into silence.  Second, the language in the current legislation needs to be updated to include a provision on human rights.  This improves the scope of the legislation and improves the ability of federal prosecutors to obtain convictions.  Third, the legislation needs to include some type of amnesty for victims of human trafficking.  This will help to improve the willingness of trafficking victims to come forward.  Fourth, the legislation needs to support the criminalization of human trafficking at the state level.  This aids in improving state responsibility of fighting human trafficking and also improves the awareness of this issue amongst state law enforcement.  Fifth, the legislation needs to authorize the appropriate federal agencies the power to launch a nation-wide public campaign message.  People in the US need to know what human trafficking is if they are every going to play a role in fighting it.  This public campaign will help to identify trafficking victims, expand awareness of the penalty for being associated with trafficking, and provide a direct avenue of awareness to silent victims.

In terms of global human trafficking, the US government needs to assign resources towards intelligence gathering of human trafficking abroad.  This information would be extremely useful in identifying trafficking groups operating within the borders of the US.  In other words, cooperative intelligence gathering on the national level can enhance domestic policy.

In an ideal world, all of these policy initiatives would become law.  In my opinion, they would significantly enhance the US' ability to fight human trafficking, allowing our nation to meet the social, ethical, and national security responsibilities associated with the human trafficking problem.  However, realistically, it is unlikely that these recommendations will pass in their current form.  Specifically, I do not think that the amnesty provision would likely pass.  Our government has had the opportunity to solve the amnesty issue for different groups before but it did not succeed.  Also, the public awareness issue might pass but I do not think that it would be funded adequately.  Overall, the most likely aspect of the bill to pass without change is expanding the language to include human rights.

On a global level, human trafficking is a growing industry.  The primary victims are women, followed by men and children.  As a whole, the illegal trafficking industry is valued at over $50 billion.  In addition, its ties with drug and illegal arms trafficking are growing.  These relationships are an increasing cause of concern for the US.  Various relevant sources were analyzed regarding domestic human trafficking.  It is clear that the US is primarily a receiver of trafficking victims.  The majority of these victims are women and children.  In 2000, the US took a major step towards improving our ability to manage the problem of human trafficking.  Specific legislation was enacted at the federal level that criminalized trafficking.  However, this legislation does have several weaknesses that include the ability to prevent trafficking and stimulate voluntary reporting of trafficking.  In order to address these issues, a policy analysis was completed.  Based on this analysis, a thorough recommendation was provided.  Lastly, this recommendation was evaluated for feasibility.

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