Human Trafficking Victims: Immigrants’ Vulnerability and Continual Exploitation by Kaylie Pippin

In Colorado, human trafficking has been on the rise, and specifically, in sexual exploitation. Sex trafficking is predominantly seen in cities and is not unusual to have high rates (E. Reid, personal communication, May 4, 2022). High rates of sexual exploitation are observed in Colorado 2020, where over 70 percent of the total amount of trafficking cases are classified as sexual (National Human Trafficking Hotline, 2020). Even though sexual exploitation makes up most human trafficking cases, there are many varieties of this heinous crime which consists of two citizenship forms (in the U.S.) – foreign and US citizen. Colorado, in particular, has 10 percent of the total population which are immigrants, but the same population makes up 40 percent of the total number of human trafficking victims (National Human Trafficking Hotline,

In the 1200’s, slavery and human trading was a common form of everyday life and led into the many centuries ahead of slave trades. A few hundred years later, human trafficking for sexual purposes, also known as “white slavery”, was taking over the world, and despite new laws and efforts to suppress this form of trafficking, it still existed internationally. Known as the third largest international crime industry, human trafficking has been said to be generating over $32 billion annually (Weebly, 2020). This multibillion-dollar industry has exploited many vulnerable populations, especially the migrant community. Human trafficking is clandestine crime that has taken advantage of illegal immigrants, and few victims come forward because of fear of shame, retaliation and the lack of understanding of what happened to them (Gallagher, 2015).

Victims of human trafficking are some of the most vulnerable people which predators take advantage of, such as being poor, unfamiliar with their environment, and being in abusive relationships. One of the most complex and prominent elements propelling human trafficking is migration. A person may migrate away because of low opportunities for work, conflict in their country, poverty etc., but when an individual relocates from their home to entire other country, they become vulnerable to traffickers. They become more susceptible as a migrant due to debt bondage, inexperience in other countries, inadequate and discriminatory policies, cultural norms, etc. (David, et al., 2019). Human trafficking has a complex migrant victim pool with many contributing push and pull factors, and despite countries’ pursuing efforts towards stricter immigration laws, resources for susceptive populations, and research for trafficking of human
beings (or THB), no support or aid has been effective for potential victims.

The United States has realized that the migrant community is a huge contributing percentage to the human trafficking population, and while trying to decrease the forty-million victims being trafficked at any given point the government has implemented stricter laws on immigration. Restricting immigration and creating very strict barriers to migrate does not work and is helping to expand the human trafficking ring. Many countries including Italy (and most of Europe), the United States, and other countries, have put laws in place to deploy massive force towards the boarders so there is not any unwanted migration. Nations have seen organized crime of all kinds attempting to cross the border, so the leaders’ thought is push migrant individuals out of the country, so the crime does not enter their territory (Gallagher, 2015). The colossal backfire, however, is how the unwanted migrants end up in the hands of smugglers as a way to arrive to the preferred destination country. The push of migrants out of countries became an unintended pull factor of human trafficking, since immigrants could not freely move around, they were forced into the hands of many predators. The Counter Trafficking Module (CTM) took a survey from about 25,000 victims of human trafficking, and revealed only 5% of those victims were kidnapped, the rest were initially recruited through personal or professional connections (Cho, 2015). The data indicates victims are moving voluntarily, and not through safe channels. As the migration laws become more uncompromising, migrants are forced to the underground channels where they are exploited.

Handlers for migrants and in turn, traffickers, can take advantage through debt bondage and dependency victims have on their smuggler. When migrants end up in the situation where they need to get smuggled, they must pay a high price to do so, and even if the migrant pays off their smuggler, they can remain in debt to whomever funded the trip (Gallagher, 2015). Remaining in debt builds a vulnerable migrant in the destination county to be exploited for labor or sexual enterprises. Victims are often trafficked to places where they do not speak the same language, and in many cases their identity papers, such as birth certificates, passports, identification cards, are confiscated. These tactics are used to make the victim dependent on who has their documents, and very isolated since they cannot talk to anyone in the destination country (Gallagher, 2015).

Millions of immigrants retreat to smugglers to travel across boarders (Lopez et al., 2021); but not all of them fall victims to human trafficking, so another vulnerability aspect is within the underground migration system. Many literature pieces point out the position of women in society is a powerful push factor to human trafficking (Cho, 2015). Gender inequality manifests itself into a reason to migrate and becomes a determinant for being trafficked. The injustices women face is almost a direct link to human trafficking, because a women’s vulnerable position likely pushes them to take risker migration options to reach where they want to go (Cho, 2015). Women have increased economic motivation, human rights violations, unbearable living conditions, and social injustices (Vijeyarasa, 2015). These factors push women into trying to make a better life for themselves, and when a woman raises her expectations for a better life, it
pushes the woman into risker actions to acquire the life she deserves.

In Ukraine, for example, men are seen positioned above women and men are the ones that must go out and work to support their families. This hierarchy leaves Ukraine with high rates of domestic abuse, and labor barriers for women (Vijeyarasa, 2015). After being victims of abuse, these women decide to leave and try to make a better life for themselves and their families. Being a single mother in Ukraine is difficult, where there is no one hiring for women, and where their abusers are just around the corner. Many women want to “‘… settle their personal issues by living abroad…’” (Vijeyarasa, 2015). The need to support themselves and sometimes their children economically is a driving force for migration, and traffickers’ prey on it.

Often immigrants move from their countries for educational, economical, and occupation opportunities, so many do not have job skills, schooling, or job experience to show for. After they are victimized for being a pregnable immigrant, most are left in a more weakened state. The immigrants are traumatized from forced acts of labor and sex, and since they are illegal there is no one to turn to. When there is a resource to utilize, they lack in many ways, and they are not useful for many victims (Clawson & Dutch, 2006). Some of the most fundamental resources, such as healthcare, housing, and mental support services are lacking (E. Reid, personal communication, May 4, 2022). Immigrants also need consistent legal assistance to gain access to the country and to obtain work visas (Clawson & Dutch, 2006).

Two major challenges to meeting the needs of victims are the availability of services and the appropriateness of services. Even if victims are eligible there are long wait lists and associated fees which make help very limited. There are many unexpected charges associated with free clinics, because specialized treatments are usually needed for many victims of human trafficking (Clawson & Dutch, 2006). Providing services are not the only factor to consider, but there is a need for cultural and gender specific services. Simply having translation services are not enough, but knowing in some cultures, for example, it is not appropriate for a female to see a male doctor. Implications of barriers to many basic services often cause these victims to be revictimized and may return to the life of sex trafficking to survive. Not providing and having very limited services for migrant victims results in the continuation of adding to the human trafficking population.

Research on THB lacks in reliable data since human trafficking is such a clandestine crime, and more specifically illegal immigrants are even more transient making the true magnitude of the problem unknown (Cho, 2015). There are gaps in research for push and pull factors and victims. The best information we have for push and pull factors are from survivors and their lives before being trafficked, which is extremely beneficial, but not enough to make hasty generalizations. The current immigration laws are not focusing on globalization which motivates exploitation but focusing on immigrants themselves. Globalization embraces the free movement of goods, capital, and services but prevents the freedom of movement of people which creates a demand for cheap labor (Gallagher, 2015). The insistence for this labor ensures a stocked population from which traffickers can easily find victims. There is very little research on male victims, which has led to limited knowledge on why men are targeted and how to aim laws towards male victimization (Vijeyarasa, 2015). The gaps in research allow continuing
exploitation in migration patterns and limited aid countries can provide.

Centuries of history has passed demonstrating how human trafficking and migration are interrelated. The supposed “elite” has taken advantage of migrating populations for the use of commercial sex and labor which has affected all parts of the world. Since there is very little research established for the depths of migration exploitation, the efforts to stop the expanding industry are belittled. New laws restricting migration have backfired and manifested an entire population for predators to attack. After victims survive the horrors of human exploitation there are few resources to recoup and obtain the life they were looking for. As seen in Colorado many victims return to the lifestyle traffickers subjected them to and finds themselves in a vicious cycle. In current times, no matter the efforts states and countries have taken to prevent or help sufferers of trafficking nothing has changed. This analysis has revealed the shadowed crime of exploitation is almost inevitable since the efforts have just scratched the surface of human


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