She cowered against the wall with the other women. Each was wondering when she would be next. A woman’s screams filled the static air. Like a sharp cadence, thuds from the beatings continued. Eventually the man emerged from the room, dragging his victim. Purple and red bruises mingled with bloodied cuts covered her face and body. Whole chunks of her hair were missing. The other women helplessly stared.

Welcome to the world of human trafficking, specifically sex trafficking. No, you say, this is stuff from a novel or horror movie. Actually, it is from a human trafficking case investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), involving at least 9 women who were forced into sexual slavery. The man, Don Arthur Webster, Jr., was convicted by a federal jury on February 6, 2008, in the first sex trafficking trial in the district of Alaska, and charged with 28 counts for sex trafficking of minors and adults, and drug trafficking.

Now a little over 143 years since slavery was outlawed in the United States with the passing of the 13th Amendment, slavery continues on a widespread scale. Many Americans do not even realize what “modern day slavery” is, much less that it is a problem. Between 14, 500-17,500 people are trafficked annually into the United States and between 600,000- 800,000 are trafficked globally. The United Nations estimates that the total market value of illicit human trafficking amounts to a staggering $32 billion.

The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 defines human trafficking as ” (a) sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or (b) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.” This same act also asserts that “Trafficking in persons is a modern form of slavery, and…the largest manifestation of slavery today.” The 2004 Department of Justice report says that “Approximately 80% of the victims are female, that 70% of those females are trafficked for the commercial sex industry.” According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, “the largest number of people trafficked into the U.S. come from East Asia and the Pacific (5,000-7,000),” and the “next highest numbers come from Latin America, Europe, and Eurasia – between 3,500 -5,500 victims from each.”

Victims are often snared with fraudulent promises involving marriage, employment, educational opportunities, or a better life. The FBI reports that while the majority of victims in its human trafficking cases are women and young girls from Central America and Asian countries, victims can also be U.S. citizens. Once victims have been recruited by force or fraud, they are then controlled physically, emotionally, and/or financially.

Steps have been taken to combat human trafficking. Acts such as the TVPA have been signed into law, and increased efforts both nationwide and internationally by organizations such as the International Justice Mission, the United Nations, the FBI, Department of State, Department of Justice, and others are combating this form of slavery. But human trafficking continues both nationally and internationally at an alarming rate. Further steps must be taken to abolish this atrocity. Even one person who has become violated and forced into slavery is one too many. But likewise, even one person can help stop slavery. In the words of former Attorney General Alerto Gonzales, “Human trafficking is a violation of the human body, mind, and spirit. For this vile practice to be taking place in a country that the world looks to as a beacon of freedom…is a terrible irony and an utter tragedy.”

What will you do to free the slaves?

Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act

National Criminal Justice Reference Service

U.S. Department of State – Trafficking in Persons Report 2008

U.S. Department of State – Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center

U.S. Department of Justice

Federal Bureau of Investigation

Press Release of Alaska Trial

United Nations

International Justice Mission