How much do you think about human trafficking? If you’re living in a First World country, probably not much.

What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is exactly what it sounds like. Just as there is trafficking in drugs, commodities, and other goods, there is trafficking in persons. Human trafficking is just another word for modern-day slavery, which is probably the most important of all human trafficking facts.

It’s essential to recognize human trafficking for what it really is and to call it by its true name. Slavery is a word that carries every negative connotation we associate with absolute human suffering. Slavery is the opposite of freedom, and millions of people around the world are anything but free.

There are many different ways that people can be forced into labor. Sometimes physical force is used, other times blackmail and other forms of coercion and fraud. Other times, criminal organizations pose as legitimate employers and trick their victims into signing up for opportunities which turn out to be anything but what they promised to be.

Human trafficking destroys lives, poses health risks, and fuels organized crime. It has a detrimental effect not only on individuals, but also on the economy as a whole. Here are some disturbing facts about human trafficking you may not know.

1. More than three quarters of human trafficking is for sex, and according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 80% of the victims are female.

The strong correlation between human trafficking and sex may not come as a surprise—but if it doesn’t, consider how much human trafficking involves other forms of labor. If you’re not surprised about the sex, you may be surprised about that. There are men recruited as slaves, and many of those men are forced into sexual labor. Likewise, both men and women can be forced into other forms of work, like hard physical labor and even military combat.

2. Also according to research conducted by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, $9.5 billion (estimated) is generated through human trafficking around the globe.

About $4 billion of that is from sex labor. That makes human trafficking the third most profitable organized criminal activity. The only two criminal industries which pull in more money than that are trafficking in drugs and weapons.

3. Sex trafficking victims are not only bought and sold for sex, but also other forms of physical violence.

The NCADV cites a study which reported that 65% of female sex trafficking victims had received serious physical injuries. Twenty-four percent of those women had head injuries, and more than 10% also had broken bones. Furthermore, the rate of contracting STDs goes up tremendously, and the odds of contracting the HIV virus is ten times as high.

4. While you may not associated human trafficking with living in the United States, this country takes part in the illegal labor market as well (both buyers and sellers).

The U.S. Department of State reports than half of the victims of trafficking are under 18. Children who are trafficked are often already the victims of abuse. Having fled their homes in search of safety, they fall into the hands of traffickers, who exploit them further.

5. The State Department estimates between 14,500-17,500 human beings are brought into the US as slaves every single year.

That means there are a lot of US buyers. It’s enough to make you wonder who they are, and whether you yourself have ever met a perpetrator or a victim of human trafficking—even living in the sheltered suburbs or an affluent area of town. Buyers, after all, have to have the money to afford human labor. Odds are if you are living in an affluent neighborhood, it is actually more likely and not less that you will stumble across slavery. And you probably will never know it.

6. Just as rape and murder victims often know their abusers and killers, the victims of human trafficking often are acquainted with their recruiters.

Fifty-four percent are recruited by strangers, but 46% are brought into slavery by somebody they actually already know. Just because this is a form of organized crime doesn’t mean that it’s at all impersonal. Usually the traffickers are citizens of the country where they do their recruiting, not their selling.

7. Children are regularly conscripted into warfare in Burma, Libya, Congo, South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

Many of the children who are forcibly enlisted are younger than 15. Boys and girls are both recruited, and some are as young as nine years old, according to the State Department. These children are usually enlisted to serve in warring revolutionary factions. Sometimes they serve as soldiers, other times they work as bodyguards for important members of the competing factions. These children have no idea what it means to live an ordinary life. Those who survive may well grow up to perpetuate the cycle.

8. The International Labor Organization released new estimates of the number of persons forced into labor around the globe on June 1, 2012. It is estimated that around 20.9 million persons are enslaved at any one time around the world.

Southeast Asia is the biggest location for forced labor, where it is estimated some 11,700,000 are engaged in forced work. Second place goes to Africa, with an estimated 3,700,000 victims. North and South America and Russia and Eastern Europe fall in at around 1,600,000 each (add or subtract a couple hundred thousand for each). In the Middle East, the number tallies in around 600,000. TCNN estimates that the 20.9 million figure may actually hugely undershoot the real number, which could be closer to 30 million.

9. Not all countries even have laws prohibiting all forms of forced labor.

Slavery is still technically legal in some nations, which makes it even harder to crack down on offenders and prosecute them. Since human trafficking typically takes place across borders, it is even more challenging to prosecute slavers. Considering that millions of slaves are traded around the globe, it is shocking that within the past decade there have been fewer than a couple hundred prosecutions involving human trafficking in the United States. There are a lot more people involved in the market who have never faced charges, and at the current rate, probably never will.

10. The NCADV states that there is currently only a single existing shelter in the US designed to accommodate human trafficking victims.

At the time the document was published, fewer than a dozen victims were in residence.

11. Trafficking victims often do not seek assistance even when they are able to because they do not understand the legal system of the country where they are being held captive.

They may assume that their situation is legal, that they will not receive help because they are foreign, or even that they themselves will serve time for their role in events. The victim may also face language and cultural barriers. Victims are typically moved once or twice a month, which makes it even more challenging for them to understand their environments and find allies to reach out to. Adding to the challenges of fighting back is the fact that organized crime typically involves a large number of people, and it can be difficult for a victim to identify everyone involved in her situation.

12. Human trafficking victims are denied the experience of an ordinary life, often for many years at a time, if not entire lifetimes.

They are more than likely to experience post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and victims of child labor in particular are unlikely to have a normal perspective on life. These factors make it more likely that past victims of human trafficking will engage in drug use and violent behavior, perpetuating the cycle of crime around the globe and feeding into the same organizations which abused them in the first place.

Modern Slavery

There are many different words which are used in lieu of the word “slavery.” Why? For some reason people in our modern world have a hard time facing the harsh reality of slavery for what it is. When we hear the word “slavery,” many of us immediately flash back to our history textbooks, thinking that slavery is an institution of the past.

Nowadays, words like “debt bondage,” “bonded labor,” “forced labor,” “indentured servitude,” “attached labor,” and “restavec” are used in place of the word “slavery.” However, all of these words translate to one thing and one thing only. Slavery is a very concrete modern-day reality, and for 20-30 million human beings world wide, it is one where the price is quite literally life.