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Human Trafficking by the Numbers: The Untold ‘Other’ Pandemic

July 30th marks the United Nations-designated World Day Against Trafficking In Persons and an opportunity for the hospitality industry to be part of the solution


On June 28th, Ghislaine Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years in prison for helping the now-notorious sex offender and “globetrotting” financier Jeffery Epstein abuse teenage girls between 1994 and 2004. Of course, the world is now painfully familiar with this disturbing story in the wake of Epstein and Maxwell’s arrest, and with the help of documentaries like Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich currently on Netflix, which exposed the horrifying crimes committed by the pair in great detail.

Over the last few years, in particular, a media frenzy has erupted around the investigation, and subsequent trial, especially after Epstein died in a New York prison cell while awaiting his trial on sex trafficking charges nearly a decade after his conviction. Just a day after Maxwell’s sentencing, R&B star R. Kelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison for “using his superstardom to subject young fans — some whom were just children — to systematic sexual abuse.” The singer and songwriter’s charges included racketeering and sex trafficking, and, once again, the media has been quick to expose and condemn the horrors endured by his victims.


Of course, it’s no surprise that these cautionary (and high profile) tales of unimaginable crimes were placed under a critical spotlight on the world’s stage – crimes of this nature should receive the highest degree of attention, care, and retribution. However, it’s important to note that the issue of human trafficking and sexual abuse is far more widespread than those scandals which receive an onslaught of media attention. Human trafficking is a widely pervasive issue that continues to rear its ugly head around the world – especially (and unfortunately) within the world of hospitality. That’s why the UN, and nonprofit organizations like the Safe House Project, are dedicated to bringing awareness to the issue of human trafficking. The World Day Against Trafficking in Persons is observed annually on July 30 to raise awareness about human trafficking and to promote and protect the rights of trafficking victims. I urge our industry to be part of the solution.


Recent Headlines Only Tell Part of the Story


The unfortunate, and undeniably sobering truth, is this: human trafficking and modern slavery are not only happening in the dark corners of celebrity circles – they are happening in every corner of the globe. Let’s consider the following statistics:

  • Hundreds of thousands of individuals are trafficked every year in the United States

  • An estimated 40.3 million victims are trapped in modern-day slavery

  • There are 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every 1,000 people in the world

  • The most common form of human trafficking (79%) is sexual exploitation, and the victims of sexual exploitation are predominantly women and girls

  • 40% of trafficked children are sold by a family member

  • 99% of human trafficking victims are never identified

  • Of the 1% who are identified, few receive care

  • 80% of human trafficking survivors end up being re-victimized if they do not have a safe place to go

Recent research by The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking even revealed that while over 69% of Canadians feel that the average Canadian doesn’t understand the issue of sex trafficking, a staggering 93% believe it’s important to raise awareness and increase education. With this in mind, the Centre notes that it’s imperative to “undo perceptions that trafficking is limited to cross-border smuggling or kidnapping when the reality is that sex trafficking is happening right here at home.”


Unfortunately, hotels find themselves at the heart of this issue, as hotel properties make for an ideal environment to operate sex trafficking networks out of. Traffickers can leverage the anonymity of hotel rooms paid for in cash to set up encounters between victims and their purchasers and disguise illicit activity. With this in mind, it’s incredibly important for hospitality professionals and brands to remain diligent and on high alert for signs of human trafficking on their property.


Human Trafficking Misconceptions


Perhaps the most prevalent – and dangerous – myth surrounding human trafficking is the belief that it only occurs in foreign countries or selectively targets individuals born in foreign countries. On the contrary, human trafficking exists in every country, and can target victims of any age, race, gender, and nationality in cities, suburbs, rural towns, and otherwise unsuspecting communities.

It is also often believed that human trafficking victims will always seek help in public settings, including the hotels they are brought to by their traffickers. When victims are in desperate need of help, they are afraid to come forward and risk retaliation and punishment from their traffickers if caught drawing attention to themselves. Often, victims are forced and coerced into a life of abuse and secrecy through threats, violence, and danger to themselves or their family and loved ones. Moreover, human trafficking victims usually don’t have access to their identification documents and may feel that they are unable to get the help they need in fleeting moments of opportunity.


A Continued Commitment to Anti-Trafficking


When considering the gravity and scope of an issue as prevalent as human trafficking, we must all be a part of the solution. Within the hospitality realm, especially, it is imperative that we take responsibility for the fight against human trafficking by committing to training and education dedicated to combatting and, eventually, eradicating it entirely. With this in mind, many major hotel brands have committed to better educating and training their employees as part of the AHLA 5-Star Promise. On the vendor side, we also have a responsibility to support hotels in this critical mission. To accomplish this goal, TraknProtect has partnered with Safe House to help us educate all our employees on combatting human trafficking.


By becoming a Safe House ‘Leader in Freedom’, we are reinforcing our corporate commitment to safety in the hospitality industry and, perhaps more importantly, empowering our employees to be a pivotal part of the solution. With extensive training, our employees are now equipped to spot, report, and prevent trafficking, while Safe House utilizes corporate donations to help provide victims of trafficking with safe housing.


Hospitality workers often have the unique opportunity to identify victims, discreetly call for help, and support them upon exit from a dangerous (potentially life-threatening) situation. We know that eradicating human trafficking will take enhanced awareness and collaborative effort, and TraknProtect is eager to fulfill our duty to eradicate trafficking in our communities and the hospitality industry at large.