Generating an industry worth billions of dollars, human trafficking poses one of the greatest threats to human rights globally. The U.N. defines the act as “a process by which people are recruited in their community, and exploited by traffickers using deception and/or some other form of coercion to lure and control them.”

The problem stems from various elements, including migration floods, political instability, economic uncertainty, dysfunctional state institutions and a rapidly growing sex industry. The U.N. goes on to identify three different elements that must be present for an act to be considered human trafficking: recruitment and transporting, an act of deception or abuse of power and a form of exploitation to which the victim is subjected.

Here are five basic realities of human trafficking that give a snapshot of the current situation:

1. What we see is the tip of the iceberg.

Cases of human trafficking are extremely difficult to detect. Conviction rates from the crime are extremely low: even though 460 different trafficking flows have been identified worldwide, 16% of affected countries reported zero cases between 2007 and 2010.

2. Victims remain tantalizingly close to home.

Most traffickers do not transport their victims across the world. Instead, they tend to keep victims within the region they were taken from. Globally, the trafficking flow with East Asian origins exports the most victims out of the region.

3. Men are trafficked, too.

Human Trafficking is an act of those in power exploiting those who are vulnerable. Women and children, then, with smaller physical stature and less social empowerment, are at highest risk. But that does not mean they are the only victims: men account for a quarter of all human trafficking victims. A third of all trafficked children are boys.

4. It’s happening right now, even in the U.S.

More than 10,000 people are forced laborers in the U.S., and this does not account for all the cases that go unnoticed. Taking those into account, the figure is more likely in the tens of thousands. Most of these will end up in the sex industry, while others will be forced to work in agriculture, domestic settings, sweatshops and in hotels.

5. It’s everyone’s problem.

It is estimated that 20.9 million people work forced labor globally, and this number can be thought of as a good indicator for the number of trafficked people worldwide. Victims have been identified with 136 different nationalities in virtually every region of the world, and all countries play some part in the process, with 118 of them containing victims.

The news is not all bad, though. There are ways to combat these trends, like lessening discrimination, empowering women, keeping children healthy and clear of conflict zones and, as always, battling global poverty.

Currently, evidence shows that in some regions, human trafficking has been on the decline since 2000, and 134 countries have now made laws against it.

– Rachel Davis

Sources: UN(1), UN(2), UNODC, Human Rights Center
Photo: LB International