A sobering new report from the State Department finds that more than 12 million people worldwide are victims of "trafficking in persons" — trapped in forced labor, bonded labor or forced prostitution. But just 4,166 people were convicted of trafficking last year, the report says.
Even so, awareness of the reach of modern slavery has made such crimes easier to report and police, the study says. Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca, who heads the State Department's anti-slavery efforts, noted that 116 countries have adopted anti-trafficking laws since the United Nations enacted a law against modern slavery 10 years ago. Last year marked a high-water mark, both in identifying trafficking victims and in mounting successful prosecutions.
"Countries that once denied the existence of human trafficking now work to identify victims and help them overcome the trauma of modern slavery, as well as hold responsible those who enslave others," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a letter accompanying the report.
But there's still much work ahead, the report says. The State Department estimates that only 0.4 percent of all modern slavery victims were identified last year. Human trafficking is a multibillion-dollar business — and will probably grow so long as global governments fail to crack down on it more forcefully.
"Enslaving someone still carries too little risk," CdeBaca wrote in his letter with the report. "Remediation, fines or warnings are too small a price to pay — those who would profit by stealing freedom should lose their own. Fighting trafficking commands too few resources, too little vision, and as a result, too few outcomes."
The report includes testimony from trafficking victims around the globe. One American survivor ran away from home when she was 11 and moved in with a man who sexually abused her and forced her into prostitution. When the police found her, she was charged with committing prostitution and no effort was made to find her pimp. Her lawyers are appealing the conviction, arguing that at 13, she was too young to consent legally to sex and thus could not be charged as a prostitute. The report notes that for every one person trapped in sex slavery, nine people are caught in forced or bonded labor.
Clinton said that for the first time, the State Department will rank the United States using the same standards as it uses for the other countries. The country earned the department's highest ranking, meaning that the government is in full compliance with U.N. anti-trafficking protocol. Countries near the bottom of the list include China, Saudi Arabia, India, Iran and Russia.