Heard on campus: Profile of human trafficking

Vigilance is a key to stemming the criminal epidemic of human trafficking, a Penn State Harrisburg faculty researcher claims.

Professor of Criminal Justice Barbara Sims profiled the scourge of the $9 billion-a-year criminal activity in her recent campus presentation which included sobering details of what has been termed “modern-day slavery” that exists in every part of the globe, including Pennsylvania and the midstate.

Public awareness and vigilance is a helpful ingredient in stemming human trafficking, she pointed out while estimating the scope of the problem to include as many as 12 million victims each year, forced or tricked into going to another nation as child soldiers, to fuel the prostitution business, or provide cheap labor.

Fast becoming a “preferred business” or organized crime, human trafficking and its perpetrators are difficult to identify and apprehend for a number of reasons, Sims said. Victims are relocated frequently and even when apprehended are most times reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement because of fears of reprisal.

However, alert, caring people can assist law enforcement and victim assistance groups by being on the lookout, Sims said. She said there are telltale signs of possible human trafficking, including: Groups of people who live near or work on the premises; many persons occupying a single living space; people with little or no personal items, no transportation, and no phones; signs of injuries or beatings; a third party who insists on interpreting; and legal documents in someone else’s possession.

“Victims are many times invisible,” Sims said. “They have been taught to fear law enforcement and they don’t realize they have rights under U.S. law and they don’t really know where to turn since they’re in the country illegally. The supply of victims across the world is endless.”

Pennsylvania is not immune to the problem. Recent human trafficking cases have involved girls between the ages of 12 and 17 forced into the sex trade at truck stops, 20 males from Thailand found working in the mushroom industry in rural Armstrong County, and instances of mail-order brides being kidnapped to the region.

There has been U.S. legislation enacted in the last decade to combat human trafficking which includes definitions of its forms and increasing prison terms for the perpetrators, but laws are only effective when someone comes forward, Sims said.

There are steps which can be taken, she said. Among those initiatives are: assure effective legislation and funding for combating trafficking; collaboration among victim assistance and law enforcement agencies; increased and improved law enforcement training; expand and fully implement the Human Trafficking Reporting System funded by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Last Updated October 13, 2009