Commentary: A beacon of human rights? -- Human trafficking facts in United States

(Xinhua) 10:48, August 19, 2021

BEIJING, Aug. 19 (Xinhua) -- For a long time, the United States has proclaimed itself as a "beacon of human rights." The facts, however, show that America not only acts too slowly to protect human rights, but also incessantly violates human rights in various aspects. Human trafficking is one such widespread and deeply-rooted human rights problem in the United States.

Many consider a significant starting point to slavery in America to be August 1619, when more than 20 captive Africans first landed at Point Comfort in the British colony of Virginia. These men and women had been kidnapped from their homes in Africa, forced to board a ship, and sailed for months into the unknown. From this fateful moment on, America began a 400-year story filled with tragedy, inequality and oppression.

Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States, wrote that "all men are created equal" in the Declaration of Independence, and yet enslaved more than 600 people over the course of his life.

Jefferson even measured the yield of slaves on his plantation. In a letter sent to President George Washington, he counted the agricultural profits and losses of his plantation and said he was making a 4-percent profit every year on the birth of black children. The enslaved were yielding him a perpetual human dividend at compound interest.

Today, more than 150 years after slavery was officially abolished, human trafficking remains rampant in the United States.

The State Department itself conceded the United States is a "source, transit, and destination country for men, women, transgender individuals, and children -- both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals -- subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor."

"Trafficking occurs in both legal and illicit industries, including in commercial sex, hospitality, traveling sales crews, agriculture, janitorial services, construction, restaurants, care for persons with disabilities, salon services, massage parlors, fairs and carnivals, peddling and begging, drug smuggling and distribution, and child care and domestic work," said the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report.

How serious is human trafficking in the United States? In the past five years, cases of forced labor and human trafficking have been reported in all 50 states and Washington D.C. Up to 100,000 people are trafficked into the United States for forced labor annually and half of them are sold to sweatshops or enslaved in households. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the number of reported cases increased significantly from more than 3,200 in 2012 to more than 8,500 in 2017.

Women and children account for a significant proportion of human trafficking cases in the United States, and many of them are victims of sex trafficking. According to a 2020 report by DeliverFund, a U.S. counter-human trafficking intelligence organization, it is estimated that between 15,000 to 50,000 women and children are forced into sexual slavery in the United States every year.

The United States is the number one target country for sex trafficking in the world, said Laura Riso, a victim specialist with the FBI, at the foreign press center in New York. She said the youngest victim she had met was only 10 years old.

Behind rampant human trafficking in the United States is lax law enforcement and the frequent absence of the justice system. According to a 2014 study by Northeastern University in collaboration with the Washington-based Urban Institute, labor trafficking investigations were not prioritized by local or federal law enforcement agencies.

Although the majority of victims in the study were willing to cooperate, investigations and prosecutions of their traffickers were rare, said the study, adding that civil actions or back wage claims were also rarely pursued, further compounding victims' debts and stolen wages.

"It's a vicious cycle that law enforcement in the U.S. sees time and time again," Detective Bill Woolf with the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force was quoted by the Atlantic as saying.

Luis Cabeza deBaca, former U.S. anti-trafficking ambassador-at-large, said the gravity of the human trafficking problem reveals systemic flaws in the U.S. governance system. "This is not one bad apple that needs to be dealt with," he said. "The entire barrel has a problem."

A typical case is American billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who had long been engaged in sex trafficking. However, because of his close ties with celebrities, artists and politicians, he had been for years treated leniently by the U.S. justice system.

Human trafficking is just the tip of the iceberg of America's human rights violations. With such terrible human rights records, the United States holds no moral high ground to judge the human rights situation in other countries.

For Washington, the top priority is not to seek personal political interests or maintain American hegemony under the cover of human rights, but earnestly respond to the needs of people in the country and improve their basic rights of survival and development. 

(Web editor: Xia Peiyao, Liang Jun)


Related Stories