WASHINGTON, D.C. – As many as 1 in 800 Americans is currently a victim of human trafficking, according to a new global report which found much higher rates of modern-day slavery in developed nations than previously believed.
Andrew Forrest, founder of the Global Slavery Index, called the report “a huge wakeup call.”
“The pressure to respond to this appalling human crime must shift from poorer countries to richer nations that have the resources and institutions to do much better,” he said in a July 19 statement.
“It’s widely accepted that most crimes go unreported and unrecorded, because the victims are marginalised and vulnerable,” Forrest said. “This report demonstrates, straight from the mouths of some of the 40.3 million victims of modern slavery, that these deplorable crimes continue happening out of sight, and at a tragic scale.”
“We cannot sit back while millions of women, girls, men and boys around the world are having their lives destroyed and their potential extinguished by criminals seeking a quick profit.”
Published each year by the Walk Free Foundation, the Global Slavery Index compiles data to estimate the number of people being trafficked globally.
The index defines modern-day slavery as any exploitative situation that an individual cannot leave “because of threats, violence, coercion, abuse of power, or deception.” This includes sexual exploitation, forced labor, and child labor.
It also includes forced marriages, the report said, noting that women make up 71 percent of people trapped in modern-day slavery today.
More data sources – including surveys and face-to-face interviews – in this year’s report resulted in significant increases in the estimates of people being trafficked in many developed nations.
The report identified North Korea as having the highest prevalence of modern slavery – with about one in 10 people classified as modern-day slaves – followed by Eritrea, Burundi, and the Central African Republic.
However, developed nations in the West, including the U.S. and UK, also have much higher rates of human trafficking than previously thought, it said.
The 2018 report estimated that some 403,000 people are trapped in modern slavery in the U.S. – seven times higher than previous figures. In the UK, that figure is estimated at 136,000, nearly 12 times higher than earlier estimates.
Last month, the U.S. State Department released its 2018 Trafficking in Persons report, which assesses countries around the world based on how their governments work to prevent and respond to trafficking.
In presenting the report, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo emphasized that the problem of trafficking is one that is found much closer to home than many people realize.
“Human trafficking is a global problem, but it’s a local one too,” he said June 28. “Human trafficking can be found in a favorite restaurant, a hotel, downtown, a farm, or in their neighbor’s home.”
The fight against human trafficking has been a priority for Pope Francis. In December 2013, he told a group of ambassadors that the issue worries him greatly, saying “it is a disgrace” that persons “are treated as objects, deceived, assaulted, often sold many times for different purposes and, in the end, killed or, in any case, physically and mentally harmed, ending up discarded and abandoned.”
In March 2014, Francis signed an ecumenical agreement with Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby, by which the Church and the Anglican Communion agreed to support an anti-slavery, anti-human trafficking initiative, the Global Freedom Network.
The following year, the pope focused on the theme in his World Day of Peace message. He appealed to “all men and women of good will” and to “the highest levels of civil institutions” who witness “the scourge of contemporary slavery.” He urged them “not to become accomplices to this evil, not to turn away from the sufferings of our brothers and sisters, our fellow human beings, who are deprived of their freedom and dignity.”
At a June 2016 summit, the pope emphasized the importance of listening to victims of trafficking.
He reiterated that message earlier this year, telling young people that they are in “a privileged place to encounter the survivors of human trafficking.”
“Go to your parishes, to an association close to home, meet them, listen to them,” he said.
The Vatican has organized numerous conferences on human trafficking, focused on both raising awareness and discussing means of fighting modern-day slavery and helping victims reintegrate into society.