Although human trafficking happens in all countries and takes on different forms, most victims of human trafficking are poverty-stricken people who are seeking better lives and are therefore especially vulnerable to manipulation by traffickers. In many cases, the victims will be “recruited” by a family member or supposed friend from their school or local community. Because they trust these people, they are often willing to blindly accept the offers that are made, which are usually the possibility of moving to a developed country and work in a well-paid job. Upon their arrival, they will be placed straight into forced labor or sex work to pay back the debts which the traffickers say they owe them for having gotten them this far; a debt they will never be able to repay fully and are therefore trapped in the traffickers’ grasps. In order to prevent human trafficking, awareness-raising is vital, especially but not only in developing countries, so that people are alerted of the possibility that the offers presented to them are not always what they appear to be. Awareness can be raised through the media, the internet (particularly social media) as well as culture and the performing arts. What is important is that the messages are sent out and are understandable in their respective societies and contexts. It is equally important to address the factors that increase vulnerability of trafficking and exploitation. This includes taking into consideration socioeconomic conditions and cultural practices (gender discrimination, arranged marriages) in source countries, promoting safe and legal migration, and eliminating possibilities of exploitation in destination countries. The prevention of human trafficking requires action by all relevant sectors of society, such as the youth, the business sector, media and the entertainment community. Another essential component includes improving the laws on human trafficking and international cooperation, in bringing the perpetrators (recruiters, traffickers, those involved in the trafficking chain) to justice.
Because of the clandestine nature of human trafficking, the majority of cases go unreported and traffickers continue to remain free. It is also very difficult to prosecute traffickers because the victims themselves are often reluctant to testify against them. They fear for the lives and safety of their family members, and are afraid of being punished and deported by law enforcement agencies if they happen to be in a country illegally. It is widely reported that many traffickers are associated with international criminal organizations, which makes them highly mobile, well-protected within these organizations, and subsequently difficult to prosecute. In some cases, local law enforcement agencies or the police forces are themselves involved with the traffickers, because the profits made in the trade of human beings are so high. In order to combat human trafficking, it is essential that the appropriate laws are in place to prosecute and punish the traffickers, and compensate victims for all damages. Greater international cooperation and involvement of law enforcement agencies with specialized training in this field are essential. Stronger support mechanisms that include witness protection services and possible residence permissions for victims are also required to speed up the prosecution process, and encourage the victims to speak out without fear and be more willing to testify against the traffickers.
Once trafficked, victims are often stripped of all their official documents and threatened with bodily harm. In some cases, the victims are told that their families will be harmed if they do not “cooperate”. This makes them extremely vulnerable and powerless to escape their traffickers. In some cases, although this is changing worldwide, law enforcement agencies will classify trafficked persons as criminals for breaking immigration laws, and often end up deporting them to their country of origin where they risk being caught by traffickers once again. In order to adequately protect victims of trafficking, it is extremely important to provide psychological and/or physical recovery measures and support. It is also crucial that the victims are given integration opportunities such as the regularization of their status, employment, training, housing and medical care. In order to crack down on trafficking, government and law enforcement agencies must protect the victims’ identities, gain their confidence, and safeguard their physical and psychological being. All partners – governments, educations institutions, businesses, NGOs, and others – must work together to ensure that victims of human trafficking are detected and provided all the support they need, through rehabilitation centers, telephone “hotlines”, and all necessary information to allow them to move forward with their lives.