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Increasing number of male human trafficking victims in the U.S. sparks concern

  Experts in the U.S. are worried about  the increasing number of young male victims of human trafficking in the country . Human trafficking...

 Experts in the U.S. are worried about the increasing number of young male victims of human trafficking in the country.

Human trafficking of boys has grown significantly, and is now almost identical to the percentage of girls being trafficked. The Department of State's 2023 Trafficking in Persons report revealed that while girls account for 18 percent of trafficking victims, boys now account for 17 percent.

Trafficking vs. human smuggling

When Elijah Muhammad was 12, his parents, who were members of an unnamed cult located in Kansas City, Kansas, received a call from one of the executive representatives of the group. They told his parents that Elijah and his brother must start their "pilgrimage into manhood" because of "the will of God."

Unfortunately, young Muhammad's parents agreed and they let their two sons travel 600 miles to Kansas City in the back of an 18-wheeler semitruck.

After arriving in the city, Muhammad started his "pilgrimage" by working a daily shift from 8 a.m. to 3 a.m. washing dishes in a restaurant owned by the cult his parents belonged to.

In his limited hours of rest, Muhammad lived in a small apartment with other boys and men. When he showed up late to work one time, he was "hit in the mouth with a Yellow [Pages] phonebook."

He would experience acts of violence frequently as a victim of labor trafficking.

Labor trafficking is a very underreported issue in the United States. It's even more prevalent than sex trafficking.

To differentiate, trafficking is exploitation-based while human smuggling is transport-based.

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), human smuggling refers to the act of bringing people into the U.S. involving "deliberate evasion of immigration laws, as well as the unlawful transportation and harboring of noncitizens already in the United States."

Meanwhile, smuggling can lead to trafficking, and often does.

Sue Aboul-hosn, the Florida Department of Children and Families' regional human trafficking prevention coordinator, said at least 71 percent of trafficked victims were forced into labor, 20 percent were exploited for commercial sex while nine percent experienced both sex and labor trafficking.

Aboul-hosn added that 91 percent of trafficking investigations involved sex trafficking, at least five percent of investigations were labor-related, and four percent involved both sex and labor.

Human and labor trafficking

The National Institute of Justice reports that confirming the exact numbers for human trafficking is impossible because of the "covert and criminal nature" of the practice.

The Global Slavery Index, published by the International Labor Organization (ILO), is considered the most accurate. In the ILO's latest report, it estimated that 49.6 million people are being trafficked globally.

At least 27.6 million are in forced labor and 22 million are in forced marriages. Women and girls make up a majority of those in forced marriages. 

The U.S. doesn't aggregate human trafficking numbers at the national level, "making the true number of cases reported difficult to ascertain," but the Global Slavery Index estimates suggest that on any given day, 1.1 million people are being trafficked in America.

The Human Trafficking Hotline reports that the primary venues for labor trafficking in the U.S. are:

  • Domestic work
  • Agriculture and farm work
  • Construction
  • Restaurant and food service
  • Illicit activity (e.g., forcing someone to smuggle drugs or commit other criminal activity)

The organization also revealed that even though many reported trafficking cases include U.S. citizens, such as Muhammad, over 50 percent of reported trafficking cases (1,086 out of 1,741) involve foreign nationals.

The Department of State's 2023 trafficking report showed that while women and girls account for about 60 percent of identified victims of human trafficking, the percentage of boys has "more than quintupled between 2004 and 2020."

HHS fails victims

In 2014, a teenager from Guatemala called his uncle in Florida to ask for help. The boy said he was being kept against his will and forced to work at an egg farm called Trillium Farms in Ohio.

His traffickers warned the boy that they would shoot his father if he didn't "pay back his debt." His uncle agreed to help and contacted the sheriff in Collier City, Florida.

The resulting investigation conducted by federal prosecutors into Trillium Farms revealed that traffickers had detained about 45 people. At least 10 of them were victims of trafficking, including eight minors.

Four people pleaded guilty to participating in a human trafficking scheme. One man, Pablo Duran Ramirez, admitted that he knew some of the workers were unaccompanied minors who were threatened or coerced.

On June 19, 2020, Ramirez was sentenced to 37 months in prison, and ordered to pay a $67,232 fine. Shockingly, Trillium Farms wasn't charged in the case.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) transfers unaccompanied children to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), an office under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

In fiscal year 2022, the DHS directed 128,904 unaccompanied children to the ORR. The HHS reports that at least 72 percent of all children referred were older than 14 and that 64 percent were boys.

In fiscal 2022, the children were mostly from:

  • Guatemala (47 percent)
  • Honduras (29 percent)
  • El Salvador (13 percent)
  • Other countries (11 percent)

On Oct. 4, the HHS reported that it currently has 10,818 unaccompanied children in its care.

The agency added that the average length of time an unaccompanied child remains in ORR's care is 24 days, but that it "is working to further reduce the length of care in ways that do not jeopardize the safety or welfare of the children."

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