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Immigrant Women & Children Project

Observations & Issues

Current estimates of human trafficking worldwide and in the United States vary greatly and are really "guestimates" at best. The International Labour Organization estimates that 12.3 million people are in forced labor, bonded labor, forced child labor and sexual servitude at any given time. The U.S. State Department estimates that 14,500-17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked in the U.S. each year. However, in 2007, the Department of Justice prosecuted only 24 cases of human trafficking. Service providers around the country have a steady stream of cases, but we do not see close to the number of estimated victims.

There are many challenges that face victims and prevent them from coming forward. Fear, shame, lack of resources and not knowing where to go for assistance all make survivors reluctant to report their traffickers. Many victims do not speak English. Some come from countries where law enforcement is not trustworthy or in fact contribute to and profit from human trafficking themselves.

Most victims do not self-identify and seek services as trafficking victims. They come to our office when they have difficulty seeking services for other issues, such as health care or the lack of proper employment documents. These issues are closely tied to immigration status. We typically see these victims two to three years or even longer after leaving their trafficker. While we do receive some referrals from law enforcement as well, most of our trafficking clients come to us in other ways.

In light of these issues, outreach and public awareness initiatives are critical to identifying trafficking victims. Such initiatives might include a national public service campaign covering the many different scenarios of human trafficking, especially labor trafficking, as this is often the most difficult to identify. In addition, law enforcement needs more training on victim identification, trauma and cultural and gender sensitivity. Child protective services, health care providers and teachers could also benefit from specialized training.

Human trafficking is a complex, worldwide and localized organized criminal endeavor. There is a multitude of profiles for victims as well as traffickers. Without training for professionals and public-awareness campaigns, it will be impossible to target and address the problem.