II. Historical and Modern-Day Slavery
Although human trafficking is described as the modern-day form of slavery, the practice of selling and enslaving humans is not a new occurrence. Ancient Egypt, for instance, used slaves to build its immense pyramids. Portugal, during the 15th century, bought and sold slaves from Africa and Europe. In the 18th century, the Transatlantic Slave Trade between Europe, Africa, and the Americans facilitated the sale of humans sometimes in exchange for weapons and molasses (Bales, 2005). The history of the United States is also immersed in slavery. Prior to the Civil War, it was not uncommon for southern plantation owners to sell their slaves at public auction. Although not yielding large profits, the sale of slaves was an established business, since they were so desperately needed for the economic subsistence of the South. Slaves were considered an inexpensive and dependable source of labor, albeit a forced and exploitative one. The passing of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery in 1865, finally put a stop to the physical and sexual abuse endured by slaves in the United States.
Kevin Bales, author of Understanding Global Slavery (2005), argues that historical examples of slavery in the United States pale in comparison to contemporary examples of human trafficking. Though he does not negate the fact that pre–Civil War slavery was appalling, he contends that at least southern slaves were considered valuable resources for plantation owners who were generally unwilling to quickly dispose of their revenue-making commodities. Thus, minimal steps were taken by slaveholders to maintain the existence of slaves, although with gross negligence. Today, victims that fall prey to human trafficking are usually considered disposable. Most victims are sold multiple times to multiple customers, and there is little attempt by traffickers or customers to maintain their well-being.
Though the above examples mainly demonstrate early instances of labor trafficking, sex trafficking also has an extensive history. Scully (2001) states that the history of human trafficking, particularly sex trafficking, can be divided into three distinct time periods: (1) the 1840s to the early 1890s, (2) the late 1890s to World War I, and (3) 1919 through World War II. During the first time period, the demand for indentured servitude around the world coupled with the mobilization and migration of non-Western males fueled the trafficking of humans. Places such as India, Burma, and Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka, an island to the southeast of India) needed indentured slaves to help extract gold and diamonds from mines and for construction projects like railroads, while places such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and the cities of Shanghai and New Delhi became popular destinations for indigenous as well as foreign businessmen pursuing commercial endeavors. Poverty and economic depressions experienced by such locales as India, China, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Pacific Islands additionally created not only a willing supply of migrants traveling in search of employment opportunities but also criminal entrepreneurs eager to make a profit by facilitating the sale and transportation of the most vulnerable groups of humans. The convergence of these factors generated a transnational sex market.
In the late 1890s, prostitution migratory routes became more prominent throughout Asia, the Middle East, the Americas, and Europe. Prostitution rings also became more organized. However, sex markets were highly stratified. Factors such as the race, ethnicity, and nationality of prostitutes were elements that determined not only their market value but also the type of employment environment for which they could dispense their sexual services. American and European women, for example, commanded an elite status and thus tended to set up their own business ventures, whereas Chinese women were driven into brothels owned by organized criminal groups.
The stratification of prostitution, particularly for those not in the privileged status and not controlled by a criminal organization, forced prostitution onto the streets, making it more visible and controversial. As a result, various civil and social organizations formed coalitions to end prostitution, regardless of whether sexual services were sold in high-priced brothels or on the street. The London National Vigilance Association (LNVA), for instance, rallied against what it called the “white slave trade”—the coercion and forced prostitution of European women. Although some European women voluntarily chose such a profession and traveled across the world to establish bordellos, the LNVA sustained support from other coalitions in Germany, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Austria. Support was so strong that an international agreement was signed in 1904 by several countries to address the white slave trade. The signatories of the agreement pledged to (a) establish a central repository to collect information on the number of European women forced into prostitution as well as share such information, (b) remain observant at ports of entry by asking women to declare their nationality and reporting to authorities which European women were forced to travel to foreign countries to engage in prostitution, and (c) supervise brothels to ensure that European women were not employed in such establishments.
The 1904 international agreement had no provision declaring the sale, transportation, and forced prostitution of European women illegal. Accordingly, the agreement served only to call attention to the problem and to reveal a racial divide. As noted by Scully (2001), 99% of prostitutes were women of color, yet the agreement made no attempt to protect them. It was not until 1921 that women of color were included in international agreements to combat forced prostitution or trafficking. It was also in 1921 that a new international agreement was signed by the League of Nations (now known as the United Nations), advocating for the prosecution of any person who trafficked women or children; however, despite international agreements, little changed in terms of eradicating prostitution. Even though there was more vigilance of forced prostitution by anti-trafficking coalitions, the demand for sex markets continued. Also, despite the universal consensus that no person should be coerced or forced into prostitution, there continued to be a lack of consensus around the world regarding the abolition of prostitution as a whole. There were some countries who opined that prostitution, so long as it involved the consensual exchange of services for money, should be legal.
Though the migration of prostitution was affected by the relocation of male businessmen (legitimate and illegitimate) throughout the world during the first and second time frames identified by Scully (2001), prostitution and sex trafficking were also affected by the deployment of troops. This was the case during World War I and also World War II. Farr (2005) notes that military troops have engaged in the rape of many women while deployed in foreign countries. In her book, Sex Trafficking: The Global Market in Women and Children, she writes that General Patton during World War II was believed to have told an aide that despite efforts to stop “wartime raping” (p. 165), it was an inevitable occurrence during warfare. The deployment of troops also contributed to establishment of brothels to provide the soldiers with access to prostitutes. Farr notes that some militaries around the globe, including that of the United States, often organize “recreational prostitution” sites to reduce wartime rape. In fact, from the 1950s to 1970s, the United States together with South Korea agreed to set up R&R (rest and relaxation) centers, which at times entailed prostitution. D. M. Hughes, Chon, and Ellerman (2007) estimate that “over 1 million Korean women were used to service U.S. troops since World War II” (p. 904).
Today, the exploitation of humans for various types of labor and sex continues to thrive. Humans are used for a variety of servitude, including the following:
- Farm labor
- Domestic work and child care (domestic servitude)
- Begging/street peddling
- Restaurant work
- Construction work
- Carnival work
- Hotel housekeeping
- Criminal activities
- Any form of day labor
In the United States, prostitution is the most common form of trafficking, followed by agricultural work (U.S. Department of State, 2008). Prostitution is also the most common type of trafficking worldwide. Globally, as well as in the United States, women are most often victims of human trafficking followed by children, primarily girls (United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime [UNODC], 2006). Children are most often used in sex tourism operations. Sex tourism involves the enticement to travel abroad for the sole purpose of engaging in sexual escapades, usually with minors. Mexico and Latin America have been locations where sex tourism, particularly with children, has been occurring. It is estimated that 2 million children are forced into prostitution for the purpose of providing services to foreign travelers (U.S. Department of State, 2008). Children are also used for organ trafficking. It is not uncommon in locales such as India for children to be abducted, nurtured, and then killed for the sole purpose of selling their organs to the highest bidder. However, the sale of organs is so lucrative that some adults around the world consent to sell their organs so that they may be shipped to other countries (N. Hughes, 2000).
It is important to note that although human trafficking is generally a transnational crime, the U.S. Department of State (2008) believes that thousands of children in the United States are trafficked within the borders of the country. Similarly, other countries report incidences of internal or domestic human trafficking, where victims are sold and enslaved in their own country. For prosecution purposes in the United States, human trafficking is said to have occurred when a person is coerced or forced to labor against his or her will, regardless of the distance from where the victim was bought or sold to where he or she is eventually compelled to work. In fact, moving a person from one location to another is irrelevant to a determination of whether a crime of human trafficking has occurred. The only relevant factors are whether the person was coerced or forced to labor against his or her will and whether the person is allowed to leave or flee his or her place of employment.