March 31, 2006

Human Trafficking: Where Have All the Data Gone?

I have stumbled upon a bit of an abyss. There is a discrepancy in the information available on human trafficking. As a side issue to immigration "reform," human trafficking, also called trafficking in persons (TIP) or modern day slavery, is relevant to the current political discourse. Thus, I have been formulating some blog posts, emails and handouts on trafficking. There are a number of good books available on trafficking (Human Traffic: Sex, Slaves and Immigration, The Traffic in Women, Global Human Smuggling) but I was in search of some online resources to use as blog links. What I have found is shocking in its absence.

I set about web-sleuthing for information on trafficking in the United States. As a researcher, I am quite savvy about finding what I am looking for, but after several days of searching I began to doubt my abilities. I was finding nothing that discussed statistics on trafficking inside the United States. I contacted some people I know who work in immigration, aiding refugees, and asked them where I might go to find reliable statistics. They sent me to a few general information websites that did not have numbers on trafficking in the U.S. (These are wonderful sites which are active in preventing trafficking and aiding victims around the world, which is of course vital, but not what I was looking for)

What I did find was startling. The number "16,000" was sited several places as a number of persons trafficked in the U.S. every year. If you need a reference: the total population of Pace University is about 15,000. But here's the part of this number that is not explained on the web: 16,000 is the estimated number of foreign nationals that are brought to the U.S. each year... not including the victims that are still enslaved from last year and the year before and the year before. Additionally, every expert I spoke to indicated that 16,000 is low. I have also located online sources that use the number 40,000-50,000, but have been unable to speak with any representatives of these organizations to substantiate the calculation of these numbers. But what it suggests is that there are no reliable statistics.

I was also directed to the 2005 Trafficking in Persons Report, issued by Codoleezza Rice in June of last year. And while there is a section that outlines the U.S. government's efforts to prevent and address trafficking, the language is mostly targeted towards prosecuting the smugglers and ending child sex tourism. The report says little about Americans who exploit trafficked persons inside the U.S. Additionally, the TIP report has a section entitled "Country Narratives,"which I was hopeful would contain some numbers on U.S. trafficking. However, what I discovered was: "United Arab Emirates", "United Kingdom", "Uruguay", "Uzbekistan". Now, I'm no spelling champ, but I think that "United States" comes in there somewhere.

Dealing with human trafficking also means addressing the problem of Americans exploiting Americans. Children, particularly runaways and foster children, are at the greatest risk. There are sources that suggest 400,000 children are prostituted in the U.S. every year. According to one source, the Justice Department believes that there are between 100,000 and 3 million children involved in prostitution in the U.S. every year.

The data that do exist are sickening. But there is a shortage of good, reliable information, which results in a lack of awareness. So I am proposing two things: one, check your numbers! I call the contact numbers available on websites and ask them about their statistics. Often the true numbers are not accurately displayed. Two, consider becoming active in the battle against human trafficking. Raising awareness can be as easy as taking a picture or having a conversation.


Andros said...

That's a lot of stuff to grapple with. We are not unique in sweeping undesirable facts under the national carpet. But, you're right, all begins with awareness.

I visited the sites you listed; I saw that there have been activities and efforts to educate the public. Anything happening at local colleges?

elizabeth said...

Nothing that I know of. Wouldn't it be nice to get a "Slavery Still Exists" event at P*&%. We need a student group to back it and do some of the work. UCLA put together a great event. Even if nothing that big, if everyone here joins the picture taking campaign, those photos can be used to show awareness and motivate congress.