Posts Tagged ‘statistics on human trafficking in the united states’

Contrary to what many of us may think of when we try to imagine those who exploit sex slaves for profit, these individuals are most often former victims of commercial exploitation themselves. This is a common pattern, seen amongst sex retailers around the world.

For example, over two-thirds of Indian brothelowners asked about their previous occupations reported being victims of commercial sexual exploitation (NHRC 2004: 124).

In the United States, many retailers have been involved in the prostitution industry since young children; a 2010 study of Chicago-area pimps shows that 60% had family members involved in prostitution while growing up. Notably, “Over half (53%) of those with family members involved in prostitution said their mothers were prostituting and/or pimping. Others involved were uncles, sisters and cousins. Some of these family members prostituted the participants at young ages, often against their will.” (Raphael & Myers-Powell 2010: 1).

Organized crime expert Louise Shelley found that “Nigerian women trafficked to Italy replicate the exploitation to which they have been exposed. In other words, Nigerian trafficking is characterized not only by female leadership, but also by a self-reproducing organizational structure,” (Shelly Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective 2010: 91).

That may be one of the most important lessons of this research; slaves and other types of commercial sexual exploitation victims frequently end up working for the organizations and individuals that first exploited them. Thus to a great extent sexual retailing is a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, cycling new individuals into the retail business (i.e., exploiter role) from the pool of exploitation victims (that the retailers helped to create in the first place!), reproducing the organizational structure in the process, as Shelly notes.


Shelley, Louise. 2010. Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective. Cambridge University Press.

Raphael, Jody and Myers-Powell, Brenda. 2010. From Victims to Victimizers: Interviews with 25 Ex-Pimps in Chicago. Schiller DuCanto & Fleck Family Law Center of DePaul University College of Law.

India National Human Rights Commission & UNIFEM. 2004. A Report on Trafficking in Women and Children in India: 2002-2003. NHRC.

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I’ve learned that any research on the topic of human trafficking will eventually lead to the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIPS) report, since it is widely used as a resource for recent human trafficking information. At some point I plan on actually reading the report, but in the meantime I am relying on citations and interpretations by other sources.

This article by Bloomberg News about the 2011 TIPS report claims that the human trafficking situation is worsening in 11 countries. “The number of countries failing to comply with international standards to prevent human trafficking almost doubled to 23,” says Bloomberg. Presumably this means that the number has doubled over the 2010 report, but Bloomberg doesn’t specify. They also note that due to recent political uprisings in the Middle East, human trafficking figures from this region have been difficult to calculate. Examples given are Yemen and Libya, neither of which reported numbers for the 2010-2011 period. This goes to show how difficult it can be to collect accurate human trafficking numbers. There will always be political unrest somewhere in the world, and this will make collecting accurate data difficult. But areas in a state of political unrest need better reporting than other places, because civil strife is a breeding ground for human trafficking. So if a large percentage of human trafficking activity takes place in politically unstable areas, and numbers from these areas are inaccurate or unreported, then we may not be getting an accurate picture of the true global human trafficking situation.

Bloomberg also notes a statement that Secretary of State Clinton released with the report in June 2011, in which she reportedly said that there are 27 million slaves in the world today. This was actually the same number that Bales gave in Disposable People (p. 9), which was published in 1999. Kara in Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, estimated 28.4 million slaves globally (Appendix 1), based on a 2005 International Labour Organization study. For more than a decade it appears that experts have agreed on the number of slaves in the world. Though I don’t know the methodology behind the calculation of these  numbers, I find myself wondering why the number has gone unchanged for so long. We are always hearing about the growth of the human trafficking industry, so shouldn’t the overall number of slaves in the world have increased over a 10-year period? On the other hand, shouldn’t anti-trafficking efforts have reduced the number of slaves? Did each of these factors cancel each other out?

If abolition and other efforts have held the number of slaves in check since at least 1999, I would consider that a small victory in and of itself, since it would actually be falling relative to the size of the growing human population. But without accurate data from conflict zones, it will be difficult to ever gain an accurate estimate.