As I conducted research for an article on human trafficking, I came across some images that stayed with me. These pictures, stories and statistics really did put the "human" in human trafficking. Seasoned anti-money laundering professionals will confirm that the human aspect very seldom enters an investigation. Typical job duties may require an AML investigator to interpret financial transactions and surf the Internet for available information regarding a customer or non-customer party to a transaction, but rarely is an investigation associated with an actual person, a being with feelings, dreams and family. Similarly, an AML officer may be tasked with interpreting regulations and guidance to determine what, if any, changes must be made to an AML compliance program to ensure compliance. The human side just does not come into play.
Herein you will find only a glimpse of the degenerate world of human trafficking. There is no doubt some, if not all, of these stories will stay with you as a constant reminder.
AML professionals must continue to fight the good fight for the unnamed victims.
The Stories Behind Human Trafficking:
- Salima was recruited in Kenya to work as a maid in Saudi Arabia. She was promised enough money to support herself and her two children. But when she arrived in Jeddah, she was forced to work 22 hours a day, cleaning 16 rooms daily.
She was never let out of the house and was given food only when her employers had leftovers. When there were no leftovers, Salima turned to dog food for sustenance. She suffered verbal and sexual abuse from her employers and their children. One day while Salima was hanging clothes on the line, her employer pushed her out the window, telling her, "You are better off dead." Salima plunged into a swimming pool three floors down and was rescued by police. After a week in the hospital, she was deported. She returned to Kenya with broken legs and hands.1
- Rathana was born to a very poor family in Cambodia. When Rathana was 11 years old, her mother sold her to a woman in a neighboring province who sold ice in a small shop. Rathana worked for this woman and her husband for several months. She was beaten almost every day and the shop owner never gave her much to eat. One day a man bought Rathana from the ice seller, and took her to a distant province.
AML professionals must continue to fight the good fight for the unnamed victims
- He wears a clean white shirt, is 40-something and paces outside the massage parlor in a seedier part of Toronto, Canada. He could be any man. A neighbor. A brother. A co-worker.
The Thai girl greets him from the doorway, as she has been taught. She has a quota to meet. If she does not, she will be beaten or scorched with an iron by the madam running this brothel.
The "John," as these men are called, has no way of knowing — nor does he care — that this girl was trafficked into Canada by one of the Vietnamese and Chinese mafias that bring anywhere from 8,000 to 15,000 women and children into the country each year. He also does not know or care that this girl is guarded by a man with a gun at all times, is not allowed to speak to others. She is malnourished and exhausted.
The John peeks inside but due to the dim lights he cannot see the squalid living conditions the girls endure, the fetid room with mattresses on the floor, the medication to induce abortions, the drugs to numb the emotional and physical pain of sexual trauma.
She invites him inside wondering whether he has a daughter her age and, if so, would he want her far away from home, tricked into prostitution. She forces a smile, takes him by the hand and ushers him inside. She is only 15 years old.3
- In Africa, recruiters take advantage of the hero-status for professional footballers by entering villages to host tryouts for young boys. The most talented are selected to attend a special "training academy." The boys' families often go into debt to afford the fee to send a son away. Once the boys are in the underground academy system they are bought and sold like commodities oftentimes forced to work or beg to survive.4
When they arrived at his home he showed Rathana a pornographic movie and then forced her to act out the movie by raping her. The man kept Rathana for more than eight months, raping her sometimes two or three times a day. One day the man went to a hospital because he was ill. He brought Rathana with him and raped her in the hospital bathroom. Another patient reported what was happening to the police. Rathana was rescued from this man and sent to live in a shelter for trafficking survivors.2
Think it is not happening in the U.S. … think again:
- Traffickers go to very poor towns in Guatemala where families, living in mud huts, have young daughters and ask the families whether their daughters would like to work in Los Angeles in family-owned jewelry stores and restaurants. The families are told that the daughters would make a very good living and would be able to send that money home. When the daughters arrive in Los Angeles, they are immediately taken to get their eyebrows tattooed and their hair colored and are informed they now had debts of approximately $10,000 that they have to pay off as prostitutes.
- Katya, a student athlete in an Eastern European capital city, dreamed of learning English and visiting the United States. Her opportunity came in the form of a student visa program, through which international students can work temporarily in the United States. But when she got to America, rather than being taken to a job at a beach resort, the people who met her put her on a bus to Detroit, Michigan. They took her passport away, and forced her and her friends to dance in strip clubs for the traffickers' profit. They controlled the girls' movement and travel, kept keys to the girls' apartment, and listened in on phone calls the girls made to their parents. After a year of enslavement, Katya and her friend were able to reach federal authorities with the help of a patron of the strip club in whom they had confided. Due to their bravery, six other victims were identified and rescued.5
- There are girls as young as 5 and 6 years old in the U.S. that are forced to do sexual acts for economic gain by their pimp (USDOJ).6
The Numbers behind Human Trafficking
Adults and children in forced labor, bonded labor,
and forced prostitution around the world:
12.3 million Successful trafficking prosecutions in 2009 globally: 4,166 Successful prosecutions related to forced labor globally: 335 Victims identified: 49,105 Ratio of convicted offenders to victims identified, as a percentage: 8.5 Ratio of victims identified to estimated victims, as a percentage: 0.4 Countries that have yet to convict a trafficker under laws
in compliance with the Palermo Protocol:
62 Countries without laws, policies, or regulations to prevent
104 Prevalence of trafficking victims in the world: 1.8 per 1,000
Prevalence of trafficking victims in Asia and the Pacific: 3 per 1,000
The stories, images and statistics reveal a world in which, luckily, many of us will never live. Human trafficking continues today and in some parts of the world is accepted as part of a functional society. International crime syndicates play a big part in the continued success of this vile activity. As long as there are unscrupulous employers who accept the use of child and slave labor as normal business practice, the likelihood human trafficking will be eradicated diminishes dramatically. As long as people are coerced into prostitution, the likelihood human trafficking will be eradicated diminishes dramatically. As long as parents view children as tradable assets, the likelihood human trafficking will be eradicated diminishes dramatically. The list goes on.
The news is not all bad. Numerous countries have enacted laws prohibiting human trafficking. INTERPOL, the international police contingent with 188 member countries, hosted its first global conference on human trafficking in June 2010 which coincided with the release of the 10th Annual Trafficking in Persons Report released by the U.S. Department of State. More than 120 representatives from law enforcement and non-governmental agencies representing more than 50 countries attended INTERPOL's global conference. INTERPOL's resources will aid the efforts of local law enforcement agencies in combating human trafficking. "INTERPOL's range of databases such as its Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database — which contains more than 21 million documents from 150 countries — has the ability to restrict the movement of traffickers and victims as they move across borders with illegal travel documentation."
The United States is certainly contributing countless hours and financing to the cause. You would be hard-pressed to find a federal department without a division or resources allocated to fighting human trafficking. From the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor to the Department of State, resources are dedicated to the cause. The U.S. Department of Justice has funded task forces throughout the United States. President Obama declared January 2010 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
Tragic stories like those above continue to be published. Though progress may seem slow, we must remember each victim rescued is a victory in the war on human trafficking.
- U.S. Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section. (Sept 2010). Web: http://www.justice.gov/criminal/ceos/trafficking.html