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The Sad History of Human Trafficking

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Understanding human trafficking can become complicated, as this is a large issue with numerous aspects to consider. One can often become overwhelmed or even burn out trying to learn about human trafficking. Learning the history of this crime would be an excellent place to start. Human trafficking has existed for many years. This crime had different names throughout the centuries.

Before we can understand the history of human trafficking, let’s understand what the term “human trafficking” means. Human trafficking is defined as “the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act,” based on the Department of Homeland Security.

Where can we pinpoint the origins of human trafficking? As far back as The African Slave Trade. This is considered the first form of human trafficking recorded. This is considered the earliest form of international human trafficking, as the buyers consisted of came from America and Europe. This form of slavery was legal until 1807, when England banned slavery. This was thanks to the work by British politician and abolitionist, William Wilberforce, who pushed for the end of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Wilberforce was elected to England’s House of Commons in 1780, and for more than 15 years, kept fighting to end this horrid practice. Finally, it happened, although not all at once. The definition of a slave did not change until 1833, shortly after Wilberforce retired from the House of Commons. Wilberforce led an incredible life. If you have the time, learn about him and his journey.

The U.S. would later follow suit in 1820.

Despite the fact that the African Slave Trade would be considered illegal activity, another form of slavery would arise. White slavery became the next form of human trafficking. This is defined as the “procurement—by use of force, deceit, or drugs—of a white woman or girl against her will for prostitution.” Because of the cases against the African Slave Trade, international governments came together to fight this form of slavery.

The first piece of international legislation to fight human trafficking was signed in 1904. The “International Agreement for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic” was signed by numerous leaders in Europe. However, white slavery wasn’t criminalized until 1910, when the “International Convention for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic” was signed.

Next, during World War I, was when the first international organization of nations was created (League of Nations), is where countries began to recognize human trafficking in ALL women (not just white women), as well as in children. Instead of recognizing human trafficking as sexual exploitation, which is what was considered the only form of human trafficking, “33 countries at a League of Nations international conference signed the International Convention for the Suppression of Traffic in Women and Children” in 1921.

After World War II, in 1949, the United Nations created the “United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others in 1949,” the first legally binding international agreement on human trafficking. For the next 50 years, numerous nations would criminalize human trafficking. In 2000, the U.N. criminalized human trafficking under Transnational Organized Crime.

The United States signed the “Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000,” the first comprehensive federal law to “address trafficking in persons.” Every state has laws to fight human trafficking.

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Unfortunately, the fight against human trafficking is not going to be easy. The demand for sexual content or new products will always cause human trafficking to thrive. It’s a high-profit, low-risk crime. That’s the reason why this crime is undetectable. We have to hold our elected officials responsible to fight for legislation that will fight human trafficking. We, as citizens, must also become outspoken about this crime. After all, change begins with one. Look at William Wilberforce. It took many years before his work was completed, and he was one man with a few friends. Please take the time to learn more about human trafficking.

Bio: Hannah is the founder of the blog, Young Patriot Rising. She is an abolitionist, and has focused much of her efforts to inform others on human trafficking. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Telegram, and Gab.