Human Trafficking: Slavery and Servitude is Worldwide Social Problem


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Nomi Levenkron’s Presidential Award for Combating Human Trafficking: Photo courtesy of Nomi Levenkron

Buying and selling people is not a thing of the past.

Modern slavery, called “human trafficking,” is a sordid worldwide business today.

While trafficking exists for purposes other than prostitution, young women and children are often the victims of traffickers supplying the sex trade.

Lawyer Nomi Levenkron was recently awarded Israel’s Presidential Award for her work combating human trafficking, an often hidden part of today’s worldwide social structure.

Prevalence of Human Trafficking

In an interview with Decoded Science, Levenkron discouraged looking for hard statistics on the number of victims involved in human trafficking.

In response to questions about the number and prevalence, she quoted a United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) report,

[w]hen it comes to statistics, trafficking of girls and women is one of the several issues which seems to overwhelm critical faculties. Numbers take on a life of their own, gaining acceptance through repetition, often with little inquiry into their derivations. Journalists, bowing to the pressures of editors, demand numbers, any number. Organizations feel compelled to supply them, lending false precisions and spurious authority to many reports.”

While precise numbers may be hard to agree upon, in the 2012 report by the U.S. State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put the number of victims of human trafficking of all types (forced labor, bonded labor, child labor, debt bonding, child soldiers and sex labor of both adults and children) at 27 million people.

Who are the Traffickers?

When asked by Decoded Science about the nature of the traffickers, Levenkron pointed to her study of  “hundreds of legal proceedings involving trafficking published to date” including pleas by relatives and testimony of victims.  Levenkron describes what emerges as  a “complex and fascinating mosaic,” and notes that the roles of pimp and trafficker often overlap.

Levenkron also told Decoded Science that, in Israel, the traffickers are often Israeli or from the former Soviet Union. In her report on the nature of trafficking, she states that this was particularly true in the 1990s as immigration from the Commonwealth of Independent States was high, combined with “a breakdown in enforcement.”  Her study found that the typical trafficker in Israel was a forty-year-old, married, male from the USSR.  Women, however, including former prostitutes, also participated as traffickers.

Levonkron’s paper on traffickers notes that one Ukrainian study found three elements that the traffickers shared, “[T]hey did not engage in trafficking by themselves, but rather always operated as part of some group. Second, after entering the trafficking business, with a few exceptions they did not return to normative occupations. Lastly, all had connections abroad that simplified their criminal activities.”

Massage parlors, escort services and “virtual brothels” are all used, per Levonson’s report, to market the human merchandise.  Levenkron states that an estimated one billion dollars are made by traffickers.

But Levenson continued in her interview to state, “I claim that the real problem is the profit of the state from this matter-not only the profit of the traders.”  She points to a report she authored which notes that the state benefits indirectly by the income made through the sex trade, including “taxi drivers who drive the victims to clients; from landlords who rent out premises for use as brothels; from lawyers who represent pimps and traffickers; from newspapers who publish sex advertisements; and from manufacturers and retailers of women’s clothing, sex accessories and so on.”

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