Human Trafficking: Exploiting Vulnerable People for Profit Essay

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Human Trafficking: Exploiting Vulnerable People for Profit in the 21st Century

In the 21st century, many Americans likely believe that in the Land of the Free, slavery is no longer an issue. The harsh reality of the situation, though, is that even in the United States, humans, especially young women and girls, are still bought and sold like so much chattel for work as sex slaves or domestic servants. Indeed, human trafficking is as ancient as humankind and despite efforts at the national and international level, the problem still exists in many parts of the world today. To gain some fresh insights into the problem, this paper provides a review of the relevant literature to develop a background profile on human trafficking and an analysis of the problem from the classical school of criminological theory. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the conclusion.

Review and Analysis

Background Profile on Human Trafficking

Given the scope and lengthy history of global human trafficking in general and with respect to forced prostitution in particular, it is somewhat surprising that many people in the 21st century are not even aware of the problem (Granville, 2004). The research clearly supports this assertion as well, and it quickly becomes clear that the problem of human trafficking is global in nature and typically involves young women and girls. For instance, according to Destefano (2007), most of the victims of human trafficking are young women and girls who are "tricked, inveigled, and coerced into lives as prostitutes" (p. 15). In many cases, the victims of human trafficking are recruited by traffickers with promises of legitimate employment in food service, as domestic workers or in good-paying factory jobs, but what awaits them is a virtual life of slavery at the hands of brutal taskmasters who use violence and even death as a way to keep their victims in line (Destefano, 2007).

Although no specific legal definition of human trafficking is provided by Black's Law Dictionary (1991), Destefano suggests that when applied to humans, the concept of trafficking means "a particular form of illegal immigration involved fraud and coercion. An immigrant is considered to be a victim of trafficking if the migration involved trickery, fraud, or coercion, and ended with the victim's forced labor in a job" (p. 15). Likewise, Article 3 of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, human 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, fraud, deception, the abuse of power or position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Forms of exploitation include: prostitution, forced labor or services, slavery, and servitude" (2000, p. 3). Pursuant to the definition provided by the UN's Trafficking in Persons Protocol, human trafficking is comprised of three discrete elements as set forth in Table 1 below.

Table 1

Constituent Elements of Human Trafficking



The Act (What is done)

Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons

The Means (How it is done)

Threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim.

The Purpose (Why it is done)

For the purpose of exploitation, which includes exploiting the prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery or similar practices and the removal of organs.

Source: Human trafficking, 2012, para. 3

These foregoing definitions are also congruent with the definition offered by Limoncelli that human trafficking is "an international trade, kept up very much by the movement of girls from one country to another, and in a very large number of cases the movement [does not have] the nature of emigration, or free voluntary movement of adults, but of export, that is, movement of persons under stress of fear or fraud, often minors incapable of consent" (p. 1). More troubling, though, is the recent description of human trafficking provided by the editors of Ethics & International Affairs (2011) which emphasizes that the ultimate destination for some victims of human trafficking may be even more sinister than slavery or prostitution: "The trafficking of human beings for harvesting organs, sex and labor slavery, forced military conscription, begging, and adoptions presents a formidable challenge in the arena of global justice" (Human trafficking: a global perspective, p. 244).

Based on the definitions provided by the UNODC, it is possible to determine if a given situation satisfies the three constituent elements of human trafficking by applying the formula set forth in Table 2 below.
Table 2

Formulaic Identification of Human Trafficking






Threat or use of force

Exploitation, including:




Prostitution of others



Sexual exploitation

Receipt of persons


Forced labor


Slavery or similar practices

Abuse of power or vulnerability

Removal of organs

Giving payments or benefits

Other types of exploitation

Source: Based on figure in Human trafficking, 2012, at para. 3

Although many countries in Eastern Europe have been the source of a great deal of human trafficking in recent years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the problem is truly global in scope. In this regard, Granville reports that, "Every year, at least 1 million women and children are taken from their homes and sold into slavery" (p. 147). As alarming as these estimates are, though, the United Nations' International Organization for Migration (IOM) places the figures much higher and suggest that as many as 4 million people are smuggled across borders each year worldwide, generating illicit profits totaling $7 each year (Granville, 2004). Besides victims from the former Soviet bloc countries, Granville also reports that, "Tens of thousands of other women from countries such as the Philippines, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ghana, and Nigeria are trafficked abroad each year and forced into prostitution to pay off their debts for transportation and housing" (p. 148).

Taken together, it is apparent that despite a lack of awareness on the part of the general public, human trafficking takes place every day in many countries of the world for a wide range of reasons that continues to expand along with innovations in healthcare technology that make involuntary organ harvesting a growth industry. Forced labor, prostitution and an organ bank are not the hallmarks of an enlightened civilization, though, and the cumulative effects of these practices on human society are profound. As the editors of Ethics & International Affairs (2011) emphasize, "Human trafficking affects not only its victims but society as a whole, and that the international community should be concerned about trafficking for pragmatic reasons of shared security, as well as the more obvious moral, ethical, and legal issues involved" (Human trafficking, 2011, p. 244). Therefore, an analysis of human trafficking from a criminological perspective may shed some fresh perspectives on the problem and these issues are discussed further below.

Classical School Theory of Human Trafficking

One of the more disturbing aspects of human trafficking is the pervasiveness of the crime. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's human trafficking division, "Virtually every country in the world is affected by these crimes. The challenge for all countries, rich and poor, is to target the criminals who exploit desperate people and to protect and assist victims of trafficking and smuggled migrants, many of whom endure unimaginable hardships in their bid for a better life" (UNODC on human trafficking and migrant smuggling, 2012, para. 2). Given the universality of the human trafficking problem, biological- or environmental- based theories of criminology do not appear to be entirely appropriate because there is clearly free will and free choice being exercised by its perpetrators which suggests a classical criminological theory is best suited to analyzing the causes of human trafficking. In this regard, Akers and Sellers (2004) note that, "A classical school approach is attractive because it is centered on choice. People choose to commit criminal acts" (p. 9). Indeed, both the human traffickers as well as their customers are actively choosing to perpetuate this criminal enterprise. In this regard, Limoncelli emphasizes that, "A traffic consists of three parts; first, there is the supply; second, there are the traffickers; and third, there must be a demand…. [E]verything that can be done… to improve women's position & #8230; will cut off the supply…. [S]trike at the supply, strike at the traffickers, but strike also at the demand for the victims" (Limoncelli, 2010, p. 1).


The research showed that human trafficking remains a global problem that defies easy solutions. Each year, millions of people, mostly young women and girls, are lured into a life of virtual slavery or prostitution -- or even organ removals -- at the hands of greedy traffickers with absolutely no regard for the law or human life. While slavery is truly ancient, it is remarkable that….....

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