Christina N. Stewart
20 August 2017
As one of the vilest crimes committed against humanity, human trafficking is a dilemma that is extremely common across the globe—even in the United States of America. Simply put, human trafficking is the unjustified trade and exploitation of individuals for sex or for labor through force, fraud or coercion. It is modern-day slavery. Through my research project, “Using Crime-Mapping to Understand and Identify Hot Spots for Human Trafficking in the U.S.,” I wanted to bring awareness to the issue of human trafficking. In addition to bringing awareness, I wanted to dispel the myth that it’s an overseas problem by mapping out hotspots in New York City where this inhumane crime is most prevalent.
My main objectives were to identify the types of trafficking, reasons behind trafficking, the interconnectedness of trafficking, statistics, the prevalence of trafficking in the U.S., resources for individuals who are trafficked, and possible prevention measures. I conducted internet research via media articles and videos, and viewed police reports, presentence reports, and case databases to help aide in the project. In addition, I conducted informational interviews with individuals well-versed in human trafficking including a world-renowned forensic traumatologist, a former counsel at the New York County Lawyers’ Association, and a Special Agent of the FBI.
Many people believe human trafficking just involves sexual exploitation, but it actually goes way beyond that. Aside from sex trafficking, there is labor trafficking (forced labor), and child soldiering. Sex trafficking occurs when a person is forced to engage in commercial sex acts against his or her will. It occurs in a range of venues including fake massage businesses, via online ads or escort services, in residential brothels, on the street, or at hotels and motels. The victims are often lured in by false promises of a job, such as modeling. In terms of labor trafficking, victims are forced to work long hours—often in deplorable conditions—for little to no pay. Employers exert “physical or psychological control – including physical abuse, debt bondage, confiscation of passports or money” which makes the victim believe they have no other choice but to continue working for their employer (Polaris, 2017). Common outlets for labor trafficking include domestic servants, farm workers, factory workers, and those in health and beauty services. Out of all the types of trafficking, profits are highest in forced sexual exploitation, which can be explained by the demand for such services. Sex sells.
One factor that tends to be common to human trafficking involves the victim’s vulnerability to exploitation. Traffickers usually prey on vulnerable situations and turn these situations into opportunities for financial gain. People who are unemployed, homeless, or have limited social services are more likely to resort to illicit activities and informal means to survive, and traffickers exploit these disadvantages. They prey on people who lack opportunity, coerce them, and then profit from them. Those in poverty will often risk everything to escape their hardships—many times being lured by traffickers to move to another country. Once the victim arrives to the new location (a new state, country, etc.) they become slaves to their traffickers. Aside from poverty and lack of opportunity being the reasons behind trafficking, “wherever the rule of law is weak, where corruption is most ingrained, where minorities are abused, and where populations can’t count on the protection of government—we find not just vulnerability to trafficking, but zones of impunity where traffickers can prey on their victims” (Department of State, 2016). Weakness is the best trait a person can find in someone they want to control.
Human trafficking is a lucrative enterprise and the interconnectedness of trafficking is extremely extensive. It can be said that human trafficking occurs in virtually every country in the world and crosses borders when victims move between source, transit, and destination countries. There are currently an estimated 45.8 million people enslaved in the world today— a greater number than at any other point in history (The Global Slavery Index, 2016). Due to globalization, human trafficking has spread rapidly. Most businesses operate on an international scale, and human trafficking is no exception. In many cases, both industrialized and developing countries partner to engage in this modern slavery. Essentially, the lesser developed countries of the world serve as factories for the developed countries. Many corporations in developed countries demand cheap labor which “results in the trafficking and exploitation of desperate workers who, in turn, are subjected to a lifetime of slave-like conditions” (Brewer, n.d.). People are duped by offers of economic opportunities abroad. Women, men, and even children from developing countries “have been smuggled or lured to wealthy industrialized countries where they are exploited for high profits” (Clark, 2003). The sale of human beings as commodities on the world market doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
Although the United States is an incredibly developed country, there is a high prevalence of human trafficking here. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the five states with the most reported cases of trafficking in 2016 were California, Texas, Florida, Ohio, and New York. Over 17,000 trafficking victims are brought into the United States every year from foreign countries, while thousands more are trafficked within the United States (U.S. Department of State). Prostitution of children is incredibly common and it is suggested that there are “at least 100,000 children exploited through prostitution every year in the United States” (Executive Summary United States of America, 2016). The most commonly reported venue for sex trafficking situations involving U.S. citizens is hotels and motels.
While researching human trafficking’s prevalence in America, I discovered that New York is a breeding ground for this exploitation. New York City has a very large immigrant population and is in close proximity to major ports of entry—contributing to its prevalence of trafficking. The borough of Queens has been of particular concern out of all the areas of the city. Specifically, the Roosevelt Avenue corridor in the Jackson Heights and Corona area has been known to law enforcement as an epicenter of sex trafficking in NYC, and a mecca for trafficking along the entire East Coast. Roosevelt Avenue is lined with several brothels, bars, and clubs, says New York State Senator Jose Peralta, and “once one gets shut down, another one opens up” (Kern-Jedrychowska, 2014). Many pimps in Queens target immigrant women who live nearby. They have operated like this for decades and continue to make enormous profits from their practices.
Going into my research, I knew I wanted to focus my efforts on NYC for the crime mapping portion of the project. I spent quite a bit of time looking through case documents, incident reports, presentence investigation reports, etc. to find incidents of human trafficking in NYC. Due to the insidious nature of the crime, I’ve had a difficult time pinpointing exact hotspots where trafficking is most prevalent. Specific locations where trafficking takes place usually aren’t published in an effort to protect the privacy of victims. I’ve found a couple of specific locations based off of certain cases, but not as many as I would’ve liked. I’ve been getting frustrated not being able to find what I’m looking for, but I knew this was a problem that I might run into. As of now, I’m still looking for more incidents so that I can complete and populate the map.
I’m very happy with my experience working on this project. I sharpened my research and writing skills, and also got to work with professionals well-versed in human trafficking. I learned a vast amount of eye-opening information and have been able to share this information with others—raising awareness about this heinous crime which many Americans are blind to. Human trafficking erodes human dignity and is an incredible ethical challenge facing the world today. I wanted to dispel the myth that it’s an overseas problem and I feel I did so with this project.
Brewer, D. Globalization and Human Trafficking (p. 47). TOPICAL RESEARCH DIGEST : HUMAN RIGHTS AND HUMAN TRAFFICKING. Retrieved from https://www.du.edu/korbel/hrhw/researchdigest/trafficking/Globalization.pdf
Clark, M. (2003, April 23). Human Trafficking Casts Shadow on Globalization. Retrieved August 19, 2017, from http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/human-trafficking-casts-shadow-globalization
Department of State. (2016). Trafficking in Persons Report (United States of America, Department of State). Washington, D.C.: Office of the Under Secretary for Global Affairs. Retrieved August 17, 2017, from https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/258876.pdf.
Executive Summary United States of America. (2016) (p. 1). Retrieved from http://www.ecpat.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/EXSUM_A4A_AM_USA.pdf
Kern-Jedrychowska, E. (2014, July 21). Roosevelt Avenue Is ‘Epicenter’ of NYC Sex Trafficking, Officials Say. Retrieved August 07, 2017, from https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20140718/kew-gardens/roosevelt-avenue-is-epicenter-of-nyc-sex-trafficking-officials-say
Polaris. (2017, February 17). Labor Trafficking. Retrieved August 17, 2017, from https://polarisproject.org/labor-trafficking