Almost 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the business of slavery is still alive and thriving in America. This illegal industry generates more income per year than Google, Nike and Starbucks combined. Its profitability is second only to that of the illegal drug industry, but is inarguably more insidious and vile by nature.

Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. This practice has emerged as a form of modern-day slavery and an issue of human rights. Its victims, often viewed as society’s throwaways, are all but invisible and the perpetrators of the crime continually become more difficult to catch. It is estimated that there are more slaves now than there ever were during America’s years of legalized slavery.


Current major forms of human trafficking include forced labor, sex trafficking, bonded labor, debt bondage, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor, child soldiers and child sex trafficking.        These phenomena are not limited to foreign countries. According to the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, “The United States is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women and children subjected to trafficking in persons. … Trafficking [in America] occurs primarily for labor; most commonly in domestic servitude, agriculture, manufacturing, janitorial services, hotel services, construction, health and elder care, hair and nail salons, and strip club dancing.”


Criminal networks, corruption, lack of education, poverty and misinformation about employment opportunities make people vulnerable to the lures of trafficking. Dr. R.E. Butler, Associate Vice President of International Affairs and Diplomacy at UVU and honorary consul general of the Russian Federation, explained that young women aged 13 to 21 are especially susceptible.

“The girls come from quite desperate financial circumstances and are willing to take risks to escape their economic plight,” Butler said. “They are attracted by false promises to become models or nannies, by ‘glamorous’ jobs or a sense of good employment. Once they are lured away into foreign countries where they are unfamiliar with the culture and the language, their passports are seized, and the young women are held in involuntary servitude as slaves for sex or forced domestic labor.”

The 2010 TIP Report states that, “Too often the victims of this crime are perceived to be society’s throwaways – prostitutes, runaways, the poor, racial or ethnic minorities, members of a low caste or recent immigrants. Bias against the vulnerable classes and an inability to envision them as victims affects whether they are identified and whether their traffickers are brought to justice.”


Although human trafficking in the modern era was not recognized as a major issue in the U.S. until the 1990s, the first international statute to address sex slavery was drafted 1949 by the U.N. The statute pronounced “prostitution and the accompanying evil of traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution” as “incompatible with the dignity and worth of a human person.” The statute also recognized the endangerment of individuals, families and communities as a direct result of the sex trafficking industry. The 1949 U.N. Convention served as a model for future legislation.

In 2000, over fifty years after the U.N. started raising awareness of trafficking, Congress finally released its first public law addressing the issue of human trafficking. The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act was created to combat trafficking of persons, especially into sex trade, slavery and involuntary servitude. It also addressed violence against women and children. The VTVPA of 2000 defined “severe forms of trafficking in persons” as first, sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion or in which the victim is a minor, followed by the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.

The VTVPA of 2000 focused on a “3P” approach to combating human trafficking: prevention, protection and prosecution.

In an effort to comply with the act, the secretary of state submits an annual report to Congress that examines the progress of the U.S. and other countries in the fight against modern slavery. This report is also used as a primary diplomatic tool to encourage other countries to fight all forms of modern slavery. 2010 marked the tenth anniversary of the VTVPA; it was also the first year that the U.S. was included in the Trafficking in Persons Report ranked by the same standards to which it holds other countries. The 2010 TIP Report contained over 300 pages detailing policies, definitions, country rankings, statistics, stories from victims around the world and highlights of international heroes in the fight against slavery.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton remarked in a letter prefacing the 2010 TIP Report that a fourth “P” should be added to the current “3P” paradigm: partnership. “[W]e must work together with civil society, the corporate sector, and across governments … toward a world in which every man, woman and child is safe from the hands of traffickers.”


Efforts to combat this crime must confront the demand for forced labor and commercial sex as well as the supply of trafficked humans. Employers create demand for forced labor when they seek to increase profits at the expense of vulnerable workers through force, fraud or coercion.

One key to addressing such demand is raising awareness about the existence of forced labor in the production of goods. If the food, clothing and services consumers bought came with a label that noted these products were produced by individuals, including children, in slave-like conditions, the human trafficking industry would finally become bankrupt.

The insidious nature of this crime makes accurate statistics almost impossible to find. The U.N. estimates that over 12 million people worldwide are trafficked for forced labor or sexual exploitation, but other organizations claim that number could be as high as 27 million. Such numbers are overwhelming, even on a global scale.

A study by the University of Pennsylvania estimates that as many as 200,000 children are at high risk for sex trafficking and sexual exploitation in the U.S. every year. This puts the issue of human trafficking right into our backyards. Cases of human trafficking have been reported in all 50 states. Although this issue may seem to concern only third world countries, it is all too domestic. The numbers suggest that it is likely you have met a modern-day slave.

Individuals wishing to combat the problem can volunteer at shelters for the victims, such as the Utah Health and Human Rights Project. Grassroots organizations created in the spirit of a modern Underground Railroad continue to increase public awareness about the reality of human trafficking in the U.S. and contribute to a world without slavery by engaging the media and encouraging community involvement.

Students seeking opportunities to raise awareness about human trafficking should send letters to Congress and contact the media. A unified student voice also plays an immensely important role in raising funds to rescue and rehabilitate victims. Find more information by searching online or meeting with volunteer and resource centers on campus.

The only way to bring healing to the suffering is to put an end to the current state of selfish consumption, ignorance and apathy. Continuing and expanding the education of human rights violations is necessary across the globe to finally capture the vision of a world free from slavery.


Factors that affect the supply of trafficked sex workers: lack of education, abject poverty, lack of readily available nutrition, lack of available work, patriarchal attitudes that give preference to males in terms of access to work, lax enforcement of kidnapping laws, negative attitudes towards women, children and homosexual males.

Factors that affect the demand for sex: negative and/or patriarchal attitudes toward women and children, negative attitudes about sex in general, desire for exploitative or violent sexual activity, lax enforcement, legal status of prostitution in destination countries.

In short, it is much more profitable to traffic from desperately poor populations, that is, places with a large supply of easily exploitable women and children, than to find local workers in rich countries where johns will pay much more. Demand for sex is also relatively inelastic, meaning that regardless of the price or the supply, demand stays high.  Oil is another example of an inelastic commodity that stays in high demand even when expensive and even during economic downturns.

The demand side must, however, be interpreted according to the situation on the supply side. Those seeking sex for payment don’t necessarily want trafficked sex workers exclusively. A non-trafficked local worker, or even a legal sex worker, can provide the same product with less danger for the purchaser and the seller.

Pimps and exploiters are much more likely to get involved in trafficking, rather than paying a local worker much more. This is due to the stigma attached to being a sex worker and the fact that being driven into this sector is usually the result of poverty, being uneducated, and in general being desperate for income. There are also higher profits to be made for the procurers.


On August 21 in Thanksgiving Point’s Electric Park, local sponsors presented the Candlelight Serenade Acoustic Festival, a benefit to combat child sex slavery in Utah. Musical guests included Priscilla Ahn, Train, Neon Trees, Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessiona and Nic Hexum of 311. If you missed the concert but still want to help end child sex slavery and exploitation, go to