Modern-day Slavery: Human Trafficking


 There are an estimated 27 million individuals worldwide who are currently victims of human trafficking, according to Kevin Bales, an expert on human trafficking. According to the United Nations organization Economic and Social Commision for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), human trafficking is defined as the circumstance in which someone is held against their will through force, fraud, or coercion without being able to freely leave the situation; it is quite literally modern-day slavery. Captors use variations of physical, sexual, and psychological means to maintain power over their prisoners. Some threaten to hurt captives’ loved ones, or intentionally addict the captives to drugs in order to force them into reliance. Though slavery is illegal in every country in the world, it still occurs in nearly every single one.

The phrase “human trafficking” tends to carry with itself the idea that slavery only occurs in other, distant places. We subconsciously assume, “It could never happen near my home, right? And never to me, or someone I know, right?” Unfortunately, human trafficking is a very global issue— one that has dug its vicious claws into communities within nearly every country in the world. An expert and scholar by the name of Zoe Trodd has suggested that the modern-day average price to purchase a human being from human trafficking networks is $40. A human life, which is invaluable, has been drastically devalued.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States alone every year. This does not even include domestic cases, in which individuals already within American borders are subjected to either labor trafficking or sex trafficking.

One person who has chosen to take a stand against human trafficking is Caroline Beyer, a sophomore at Boston College (BC). Caroline helped to start the REACT Club, or Rallying Efforts Against Contemporary Trafficking, on BC’s campus in 2008. The club works to raise awareness about the issue on their college campus and in the Boston community, bringing speakers to students and screening relevant films such as Very Young Girls (2007). As part of the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), the United States Federal Government introduced an initiative to create 42 taskforces nationwide to combat human trafficking, and Boston was one of many cities to participate. Other taskforces are located in major cities such as San Jose, Seattle, and New York City.

In an interview, Caroline mentioned that what she is most shocked about is that human trafficking still takes place and that it happens on such a large scale. Working closely with the Boston taskforce has exposed her to the realities of this modern-day slavery. “You see girls in Roxbury who are now being pimped out on the same street they grew up on…almost every victim I encounter is younger than me.” Caroline has worked most closely with young women in the Boston area victimized by this form of oppression. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, of all victims of human trafficking, 70 percent are female and 50 percent are children.

When asked to share a particularly memorable experience, Caroline told the story of a friend of hers. This young woman grew up in Guatemala and at a young age, her family sent her to the capital to find work and make more money. Vulnerable and alone, she was picked up immediately for a prostitution ring. A few months later, she became pregnant and was forced out of the ring. She made her way through Mexico and illegally crossed the U.S. border into Arizona. By this time, she was seven months pregnant but was picked up by another prostitution ring and sent to Boston. Eventually, the police raided the brothel where she was housed and she and her child were rescued. Today, this young woman is 20 years old, has a 2-year-old child, speaks very little English, and is an illegal citizen who may or may not gain legal citizen status. 

 Caroline reflects, “I can sit down with her and have a completely normal conversation about roommates, the weather, etc. We’re the same age, but our life experiences couldn’t be more different. Our lives went on different tracks simply because I was born into a nice Seattle suburb and she into poverty in Guatemala.” So, what is at the heart of human trafficking? What are its causes? “The most important thing to remember about this whole issue of human trafficking is that it’s not an isolated issue,” says Caroline. It has a variety of causes, including economic disparity, poverty, violence, corruption, oppression of women, and (more generally speaking) the mentality that all human beings do not have the right to dignity.

Caroline suggests two overarching goals that can help fight against human trafficking: education and mentoring. There is power in learning about and being aware of the presence and effects of human trafficking. It affects every region in the world and every career. Even the casual consumer must be careful not to support companies that exploit the services of victims of human trafficking. The second aspect, mentoring, is important because it helps in the effort to create support systems and strong communities. Establishing these relationships among at-risk youth is especially vital because it provides these individuals with people they can go to for attention, support, and care other than a trafficker or pimp. If you’re a 12-year-old girl who has never experienced love, words of affirmation, or kindness, you are a lot more likely to believe a suave man who tells you that you are beautiful and that he has a place for you in his business, which turns out to be a prostitution ring. “A great way to get involved is through something like a Big Brother or Big Sister program,”says Caroline, who also points out that  most big cities have task forces in need of volunteers. She continues, “Don’t be afraid to get involved with the efforts of your local authorities.”


Further information can be found in a variety of sources, but Caroline recommends a few in particular:

Kevin Bales’ Disposable People

David Batstone’s Not for Sale

The Very Young Girls film

Writings by Nicholas Kristof (look for his New York Times articles)

The US Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report.


Other reliable sources to check out:   


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