Human trafficking is one of the most antiquated and unforgivable crimes. Yet, it is also a contemporary crime that has been growing exponentially over the past few decades. Millions of people, including children, fall victim to this crime each year. Although generally a transnational crime, there is evidence that human trafficking occurs within the borders of most countries, including the United States. It is also a crime that does not discriminate—victims can be of any race, ethnicity, age, or gender. However, most victims are women and children. Global trafficking patterns signify that this global crime is driven by factors such as political and economic instability in certain parts of the world as well as by globalization, the feminization of poverty, and culture. In sum, it is driven by push and pull factors or by supply and demand. Worldwide efforts have been launched to combat the sale and enslavement of humans, with the United States flexing its power to bring countries into compliance with measures to end this crime. However, the United States has drawn criticism over its treatment of victims while it is at the same time praised for its generous monetary donations to help bring awareness of human trafficking to the most vulnerable places.
Because of the lucrative nature of this crime, some suggest that efforts to stop human trafficking should focus more on those who supply victims and those who purchase them. If traffickers contemplate risks and rewards of engaging in this crime, more should be done to dissuade them from selling humans. Thus, some suggest that more funding should be used to train police authorities to identify these criminals, and more should be done to increase the punishment if offenders are caught trafficking. However, others suggest that efforts to stop human trafficking would be better placed on those who purchase the human cargo in destination countries. Currently, according to the U.S. law against trafficking, any person who sells or buys a human being can receive a sentence of 20 years in prison, or life in prison if the victim dies as a result of the torture endured at the hands of either the supplier or consumer. As mentioned, in the 78 criminal convictions of human trafficking between the years 2001–2005, the median prison sentence has been 70 months, or 5.8 years. Thus, perhaps the answer to stopping this crime is to tackle both the suppliers and the consumers, but tougher penalties are needed to deter the sale and consumption of forced labor.
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