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That case followed hot on the trail of another case reported in the New York Times in April 2000. An indentured servant from Bangladesh, brought to the US to work in the high rise apartment of a high-ranking UN diplomat from Bahrain in New York City, was forced to work seven days a week on meager wages. The money she did earn was sent directly back to her husband in Bangladesh. Unable to speak English, she finally escaped with the help of a friendly street vendor who spoke Bengali.
“There is also an element of informal criminal networks [involved in trafficking and] that are transitional in nature,” explained Villareal. These networks include such standard hierarchy networks as organized crime, and core groups, which are multi-ethnic with a strong core membership and an ever-transitioning periphery.
Supply and demand
Human trafficking is one of the most brutal versions of the mercantile system of supply and demand. The victims, known as the supply, are drawn into the industry via economic means—the idea of a better life elsewhere, to escape poverty—and also via more dire means—violence, organized crime, governmental corruption, local instability, armed conflict, and kidnapping. Children are drawn in because families, in desperate need of cash, sell the children, or because the families are led to believe that their child will be well taken care of, receive an education, and/or send home remittances. This is often not what happens.
In an interview conducted by the TV show “Adventure Divas” with Ruchira Gupta, founder of Apne Aap, a nonprofit organization in India which works with women and children trafficked domestically and forced to work in the country’s brothels, Gupta gave a typical account. “In a village, a couple has a small child, and she’s a daughter. They are in desperate need of money. They might mortgage the child to the local agent—everybody knows who the trafficker is in the village—and they might say, ‘Give 3,000 rupees now, and when she’s seven or eight or nine, we’ll give the girl to you.’ So they would borrow against their daughter, then when she was seven or eight or nine, the trafficker would say, ‘Okay, now it’s time for me to take the daughter.’”
Economic need—parents so desperate, they sell their children to an uncertain life and, in the case of sexual exploitation, most likely a life of AIDS and violence. The demand side, facilitated by technology, involves a growing sex industry and an increasing demand for exploitable labor.
The stages of trafficking
The act of human trafficking happens in three stages: recruitment in the origin country, transportation and potential illegal entry of the trafficked person in the transit country, and exploitation in the destination country.
Stage one starts with the traffickers approaching the victims either through “recruitment” practices or through more extreme means, such as kidnapping. Often, women and children are sold by family members lured by deceptive ads placed by employment and travel agency employees—the actual traffickers. Often unaware of the danger they are putting their loved ones in, family members cling to promises of receiving high profits through remittances. The deceptive nature of recruitment also pulls in grown adults, who may know the nature of their work, whether it is sex or labor, but are unaware of the level of exploitation they will suffer.
Stage two is not only confined to the point in time when a trafficking victim crosses a national border, but is considered to be part of the whole process. Common tactics include taking the victim’s passport, confining, coercing, or forcing the victim to be part of a forged document scam, manipulation of immigration and border-control, and deals made with corrupt governmental officials.
In stage three, the victims, as they are now accurately called, often find themselves facing language barriers, illegal residency status, forced work against their will with very little pay, a huge debt “incurred” while traveling, and violence. The victims are completely dependent on the legal system in a country where they are fearful to speak out for risk of deportation. The traffickers and new “owners,” who have paid for the victims, play on this fear.
At the Trafficking in Persons Report briefing in 2006, Ambassador Miller told those gathered that both from the US State Department’s prerogative and from his own travels around the world, it is apparent that “more and more shelters are opening up to care for trafficking victims.” Along with more shelters, said Miller, there has also been a rise in traffickers convicted worldwide—from only hundreds several years ago, to roughly 3,000 convictions in 2005, and 4,700 in 2006. This, according to Miller, is sending the message that trafficking will be fought and traffickers will be prosecuted.