Exploring the Complexities of Human Trafficking
The Complex Dynamics of Labor Trafficking Victimization
Labor trafficking involves the victimization of people through involuntary labor (De Vries & Farrell, 2018, p. 630). It is considered a form of human trafficking under U.S. Federal law, codified in the Victims of Trafficking Violence Act (TVPA) of 2000, as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery (De Vries & Farrell, 2018, p. 630). Labor trafficking differs from sex trafficking in that the acts being performed are not sexual in nature, but the victimizations share the characteristics of force, fraud, or coercion (De Vries & Farrell, 2018, p. 631).
As individuals trafficked for sex, labor-trafficked persons often witness and experience events that are physically and emotionally threatening and that incite intense feelings of fear and helplessness (De Vries & Farrell, 2018, p. 631). Existing research on labor trafficking has primarily suggested risk factors that are unique to labor trafficking circumstances (De Vries & Farrell, 2018, p. 631). For example, labor trafficking in the United States often involves migrant workers, and studies have indicated that being undocumented or being recruited abroad increases vulnerability to victimization because of a certain unfamiliarity with the U.S. context and a stronger dependency on others (De Vries & Farrell, 2018, p. 631).
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Labor-trafficked persons are likely to experience multiple victimization types at the same time (De Vries & Farrell, 2018, p. 632). This is the case in part because labor trafficking can be a lengthy process as opposed to a single victimization event (De Vries & Farrell, 2018, p. 632). During this process, multiple forms of victimization might be used to keep a person docile and/or unable to seek help while being in a condition of involuntary servitude (De Vries & Farrell, 2018, p. 632). For example, a person may be physically abused or threatened and also denied food, water, or sleep (De Vries & Farrell, 2018, p. 632). The detrimental impact that poly victimization can have makes it critical to understand the degree to which these victimizations occur together (De Vries & Farrell, 2018, p. 632).
Bonded labor refers to workers who render services under conditions of bondage arising from economic considerations, notably through a loan or advance (Iqbal, 2006, p. 101). Where debt is the root cause of bondage, the implication is that the worker (and their dependents or heirs) are tied to a particular creditor for a specified or unspecified period until the loan is repaid (Iqbal, 2006, p. 102). It is a systemized feature prevailing in certain sectors of society wherein advances are common, and no work can be done without advance (Iqbal, 2006, p. 101). The Bonded Labor (Abolition) Act of 1992 puts it in the following way:
The “Bonded Labor System” implies the system of forced, or partly forced labor under which a debtor enters or has, or is presumed to have, entered into an agreement with the creditor to the effect that in consideration of advance (push) obtained by him or by any of the members of his family (whether or not such advance (push) is evidenced by any document) and in consideration of the interest, if any, due on such advance (push); in pursuance of any customary or social obligations; for any economic consideration received by him or any of the members of his family he would (1) render, by himself or through any member of his family, or any person dependent on him, labor or service to the creditor, or for the benefit of the creditor, for a specified period or for an unspecified period, either without wages or nominal wages, or
(2) forfeit the freedom of employment or adopt other means of livelihood for a specified period or for an unspecified period, (3) forfeit the right to move freely from place to place, or (4) forfeit the right to appropriate and to sell at market value any of his property or product of his labor or the labor of members of his family or any person dependent on him, and includes the system of forced, or partly forced labor under which a surety for a debtor enters, or has or is presumed to have, entered, into an agreement with the creditor to the effect that, in the event of the failure of the debtor to repay the debt, he would render the bonded labor on behalf of the debtor (Iqbal, 2006, pp. 101-102).
Forced child labor
Child labor is an old problem well-rooted in human history (Filip et al., 2018, p. 17). Children were exploited to various extents during different periods of time (Filip et al., 2018, p. 17). The problem was common in poor and developing countries. In the 1800s, child labor was part of economic life and industrial growth (Filip et al., 2018, p. 17). Children less than 14 years old worked in agriculture, factories, mining, and as street vendors (Filip et al., 2018, p. 17). Children from poor families were expected to participate in the family income, and sometimes they worked in dangerous conditions in 12-hour shifts (Filip et al., 2018, p. 17).
Although due to the increase in education, the economy, and the emergence of labor laws, child labor has decreased, it is still a widespread issue in many parts of the world (Filip et al., 2018, p. 17).
Child labor has many facets from an ethical point of view (Filip et al., 2018, p. 18). Autonomy, beneficence, justice, nonmaleficence, privacy, and veracity are endangered during child labor (Filip et al., 2018, p. 18). Utilitarianists would support the idea of child labor as long as they are the sole providers for the family, and without their income, the family would not survive as long as the labor is voluntarily provided (Filip et al., 2018, p. 18). Forced child labor is unethical because it is against the autonomy of the children (Filip et al., 2018, p. 18). The consent of the working child is mostly manipulated by the parents (Filip et al., 2018, p. 18).
To give consent, a child needs to understand the situation and the consequences and voluntarily agree to work (Filip et al., 2018, p. 18). Children of young age, who have a less than fully competent capacity, can assent to action by getting involved in the decision-making process (Filip et al., 2018, p. 18). Children fall easy victims to unfair job conditions, and they do not have the power to stand up against mistreatment (Filip et al., 2018, p. 18). The maleficence of this act has long-term physical, psychological, behavioral, and societal consequences (Filip et al., 2018, p. 18). Even if they lack the competency to make informed decisions, they are considered individuals with autonomy that should be protected and safeguarded (Filip et al., 2018, p. 18).
Commercial sexual exploitation of children
Human trafficking violates the fundamental human rights of children all over the world (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 1). A global study by the United Nations identified trafficked persons originating from 106 countries (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 1). Of over 17,000 victims, 28% were children, with girls outnumbering boys by a factor of 2.5 (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 1). According to United States federal law[3,4], sex trafficking involves “The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, soliciting or patronizing of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act (any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person) using force, fraud, or coercion, or involving a child less than 18 years of age (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 1).”
This definition is broad relative to many countries, as it does not require transporting a victim, and it does include commercial sexual transactions between a child and another person that do not involve a third-party controller (sometimes referred to as “survival sex” when applied to the homeless/runaway population) (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 1). Thus, child sex trafficking (CST includes using a minor to produce child sexual exploitation materials (“pornography”), using a child in a sex-oriented business (e.g., exotic dancing/strip club), soliciting a child for commercial sex (in person or online), and having a child perform a sex act with another person(s) (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 1).
Existing data on sex trafficking victims identified in the US suggest that the vast majority are US citizens or permanent legal residents (84%) and are female (94%) (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 1). However, cultural biases, as well as investigative priorities, likely influence the identification of victims (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 1). There is evidence that males and transgender youth are frequently involved in sex trafficking and exploitation, although they are likely underrecognized (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 1).
Emerging evidence strongly suggests that a high percentage of child victims of sex trafficking in the US seek medical attention, and they do so in a variety of settings (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2). In one study of confirmed and suspected victims of domestic minor sex trafficking, 80% reported seeing a medical provider within the year prior to their identification as victims (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2). Most presented to emergency departments (63%), but a significant proportion (35%) presented to a variety of outpatient clinic settings . Their health needs span both physical and behavioral health domains (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2).
CST is associated with sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV/AIDS, pregnancy, injuries from physical and sexual assault, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression with suicidality, and other behavior problems (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2). Adolescent girls in one study had a 47% prevalence of STIs at the time of evaluation and a 32% rate of prior pregnancies (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2). Forty-seven percent of youth in another study reported suicide attempts within the past year, and 78% met DSM criteria for PTSD (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2).
In addition, some trafficking victims experience both sexual and labor exploitation, so they may present with health complications related to either form of trafficking (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2). However, trafficked children typically do not disclose their victimization (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2). Youth have fewer resources than adults and are thus less able to protect themselves from threats and violence by the trafficker (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2). They lack the life experience and the ability to gain insight into the ways a trafficker may be manipulating them, accepting without question the trafficker’s claims that the child is at fault for their predicament or that he/she is worthless and must depend on the trafficker (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2).
Their corresponding feelings of guilt, shame, and hopelessness may prevent disclosure to HCPs (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2). Many children have deep unmet needs that are exploited by a trafficker—the need for love, attention, and a father figure (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2). A recruitment technique commonly used by traffickers is to develop a fraudulent romantic relationship with a victim, which can lead to very strong bonds, despite the presence of violence and exploitation (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2).
Children may be unable to accept the idea that their “boyfriend” is exploiting them and may protect him/her by denying exploitative acts or insisting such acts were “consensual (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2).” Immature brain development and limited executive functioning render adolescents prone to risk-taking and seeking immediate gratification rather than analyzing potential dangers and weighing options (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2). Finally, youth may not disclose their exploitation because health professionals do not ask questions (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2).
Very young children may be victims of sex trafficking, especially in the form of prostitution or the production of child sexual abuse materials (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2). They may lack the verbal skills to disclose and the social maturity to understand their exploitation (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2). If they are aware of their victimization and are traumatized by it, their symptoms of stress may be nonspecific and misinterpreted by others (tantrums, anxiety, sleep problems) (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2). Thus, caregivers and HCPs may remain unaware of the exploitation (Greenbaum, 2017, p. 2).
Sex trafficking, a form of gender-based violence in which a specific gender is the target of violence due to the imbalance of power, is a common present-day global crime (Ferreira, 2018, p. 3). Women are most often victims of this specific crime (Muturi, 2006, p. 83), and it leaves many workers and victims with health implications such as obtaining HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (Ferreira, 2018, p. 3). Sex trafficking occurs in many regions of the world today.
Under the international law of the United Nations (UN) Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, sex trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, transportation,
transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, of fraud, or deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability” (Ferreira, 2018, p. 3).
Around the world, women and girls consist of 98% of victims of sexual exploitation, most being children that are vulnerable, which leaves an impact on their development (Ferreira, 2018, p. 3). It is estimated that around 700,000 and four million people each year are victims of trafficking (Ferreira, 2018, p. 3). The region that is most vulnerable to trafficking is argued to be all of Asia due to “its huge population, growing urbanization, lack of sustainable livelihoods and poverty” (Ferreira, 2018, p. 3). Many people who lived in Asia were once able to be sustained by living off the land. However, it has become increasingly harder to do so, leading them into a life of poverty (Ferreira, 2018, p. 3).
- De Vries, I., & Farrell, A. (2018). Labor trafficking vitimizations: repeat victimization and polyvictimization. Psychology of Violence, 8(5), 630-638.
- Ferreira, B. (2018). A global crime against women: sex trafficking and its consequences. Perspective, 3-14.
- Filip, I., Ahmad Ahmadi Asgharzadeh, S., Quesada, F., & Radfar, A. (2018). Challenges and perspectives of child labor. Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 27(1), 17-20.
- Greenbaum, V. J. (2017). Child sex trafficking in the united states: challenges for the healthcare provider. PLoS Medicine, 14(11), 1-8.
- Iqbal, M. J. (2006). Bonded labor in the brick kiln industry of pakistan. The Labore Journal of Economics, 11(1), 99-119.