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Men, children make up a larger percentage of human trafficking victims

A young indigenous girl carries a heavy load in a northern region of Vietnam. More countries are considering child laborers to be human trafficking victims. (ILO in Asia and the Pacific/Flickr)

Women have historically made up the majority of the world’s human trafficking victims. That percentage is now decreasing as more countries recognize labor and child trafficking as forms of modern slavery.

This is according to a new interactive online guide from the University of Southern California (USC)’s Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, which aims to spread awareness about human trafficking. The guide highlights a 74 percent to 49 percent drop in the percentage of women who make up the world’s trafficking victims between 2004 and 2011.

One reason, says USC clinical associate professor and human trafficking expert Annalisa Enrile, is that more and more countries are recognizing labor trafficking – when a person uses threats, abuse, fraud or coercion to force someone to provide labor. This helps explain why men accounted for approximately 18 percent of victims in 2011, up 5 percentage points from 2004, according to the guide.

Another explanation for the decline in the percentage of women victims is that more authorities are recognizing child trafficking cases that were previously unaccounted for.

“A lot of times, the sexual exploitation of children was being masked by abuse and neglect in child welfare systems that didn’t know how to identify trafficking,” Enrile said in an interview with Humanosphere. “So there’s been a push for our welfare programs to get better … and we’re now recognizing more and more that children in agriculture, garment piece-work or other situations are victims of trafficking.”

Nearly 21 million people were victims of human trafficking or forced labor in 2012, according to the U.N.’s International Labor Organization. The illicit practice is most prevalent in the Asia-Pacific region, followed by Africa and Latin America.

Traffickers predominantly prey upon the most vulnerable populations that experience social exclusion based on factors such as race, gender, religion or sexual orientation.

The guide also notes that impoverished communities are easy targets for labor traffickers, who offer victims employment opportunities as a means to escape unstable situations. Lack of education also leaves these victims unable to advocate for themselves in work and contract negotiations.

Although the vast majority of trafficking victims are from developing regions, some of the world’s wealthiest countries reap the most economic rewards. According to USC’s guide, the U.S., Canada and the European Union earn the highest annual profit per victim of forced labor, and one of highest profits regionally.

Enrile said a common misconception among Americans is that trafficking only affects poor countries, and that trafficking victims have to be forced or physically coerced.

“A lot of girls that become sex trafficked commercially do so because of ‘Romeo pimping’, which means a pimp or trafficker convinces her that he’s in love with her, or that he wants to be her boyfriend, and that turning tricks is the only way that they can make money,” Enrile explained.

She said this more covert form of trafficking is more prevalent than abduction or kidnapping in the United States. “And I would guess in the rest of the world, too, if the rest of the world were willing to accept those types of definitions,” Enrile added.

The website is the second piece of USC’s two-part campaign to spread awareness about human trafficking, and provides a list of ways that people can get involved in the fight against the practice.

The first part of the project was a video released in January to highlight the scope and impact of trafficking worldwide:


About Author

Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email or see her latest work at