Human trafficking statistics and facts

By Ion Ilasco

Human trafficking statistics and facts

Human trafficking affects millions around the world each year and, for every 10 victims detected, half are adult women and two are girls. According to human rights organizations, around 40 million people suffer because of trafficking each year. By definition, this represents the illegal acts of recruiting, transporting and harboring people by using force and other means of intimidation for the purposes of further exploitation. Traffickers trade and exploit their victims for personal gains and profit. People of all ages, personal backgrounds, and geographical areas can become victims of trafficking.

This article lists the types of human trafficking, highlights the warning signs to pay attention to, and presents a list of statistics and facts associated with this crime.

Types of human trafficking

Human trafficking can take many forms that come with fluid boundaries. In the majority of situations, victims encounter different types of exploitation and abuse which may include but are not limited to, sexual exploitation, forced labor, entertainment, or domestic servitude. The most common types of human trafficking are:

  • Sexual exploitation – refers to situations when victims, mostly women, and children, are forced to perform sexual services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion
  • Forced labor – involves circumstances in which the victims are engaged in labor-intensive jobs with inadequate or no payment, freedom of movement, or decision-making opportunities
  • Forced criminal activities – in this type of human trafficking, victims are forced to perform illegal activities such as panhandling, theft, or drug cultivation/dealing
  • Domestic servitude – relates to situations where victims are forced to live in a specific property and provide labor services without either adequate payment or the possibility of changing these circumstances
  • Trafficking for the removal of organs – traffickers fraudulently or forcefully recruit victims for clandestine or illegal transplant operations

Recognizing the signs of human trafficking

Since human trafficking flourishes when it is hidden away from public eyes, it is important to be able to spot the warning signs. Here is a list of indicators to pay attention to:

See also: 25 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking

Human trafficking statistics & facts

The most recent data on human trafficking released in 2020 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) states that around 40 million people are being trafficked globally. The report covers 148 countries and provides an overview of the patterns and flows of human trafficking between 2016 and 2019 at global, regional, and national levels. Here are some of the most important findings highlighted:

  • While human trafficking affects almost every country and region, it mostly happens ‘underground’ in the dark corners of the economy and the internet
  • People with unmet economic necessities or who are living in dysfunctional environments or are affected by mental disorders have a higher risk of being trafficked
  • For 2018, the report found that about 50% of the victims detected globally were women, 30% were children and 20% were men
  • Migration status is seen as an extra layer of vulnerability as victims who have illegal or undocumented status in host countries risk falling victims to traffickers
  • In this context, about 65% of the victims detected in Western and Southern Europe were migrants
  • About 50% of detected victims of human trafficking were forcefully recruited for sexual exploitation, 38% for forced labor, and 6% were subjected to forced criminal activity
  • Some traffickers use recruitment agencies as a cover. In this context, the report mentions that around 57% of trafficking victims that were reported in case court summaries were recruited by (e.g., by recruitment agencies), another 18% were trafficked, about 14% were recruited by opportunistic associations of traffickers (e.g., two traffickers or more not systematically engaged) and 11% of victims were trafficked by individual traffickers.

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