Human trafficking: America’s multibillion dollar business

By Chris Karenbauer

In the early 1990’s, Elijah Muhammed’s parents joined a religious organization, giving the organization their time, money and children. In 2002, Muhammed’s mother sent him and his brother on a pilgrimage to Kansas City. Instead of a religious pilgrimage, Muhammed and his brother were labor trafficked. Muhammed’s parents had no idea what would happen to their children.

“We were immediately put to work, dictated on how to dress, how to speak, how to walk, what to eat,” Muhammed said in a TED Talk in Dayton, Ohio. “To disobey meant severe punishment. Slashes with a rod or paddle. Days, sometimes weeks, of fasting. Beaten until bones were broken. Face swollen. Anything that would remind the other kids what happens when you disobey.”

What do you think of when you hear about human trafficking? Most people think of the sexual exploitation of young girls. However, human trafficking doesn’t always involve sex but can include labor exploitation. It doesn’t just involve young girls but boys, men and women. Anyone in any demographic can be trafficked.

Produced by Chris Karenbauer and Josie Schmidt-Krayer. Narrated by Alan Brads

Labor trafficking does not only occur in developing countries, nor is it something that happens to only immigrants. Anyone can be trafficked. And unlike sex trafficking, in which the majority of the victims are female, labor traffickers will target any gender of any demographic.

The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 defines labor trafficking as, “The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.”

Mandy Reed, the founder of Dear Dinah located in Dayton, explained that human trafficking is a $150 billion industry, which is more than Verizon, Google and Starbucks combined. Likewise, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 148 common goods from 76 countries are produced with labor trafficking.

“In the U.S., human trafficking is number two to drug trafficking, but it’s approaching number one. The reason is because drugs you sell one time; whereas a person is sold over and over again,” Reed said.

To put it into perspective, the International Labour Organization, ILO, estimates that 27.6 million people in the world were forced into labor in 2021. In the U.S., The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 50,123 phone calls, text messages, email and other signals in 2021. It is important to note that these signals include sex trafficking with labor trafficking.

As mentioned before, anyone can be trafficked, but people with certain vulnerabilities are more susceptible to being trafficked. Many of these vulnerabilities deal with one’s economic state. People living in poverty are easily manipulated to work for little to no pay. This is especially true with immigrants from developing countries. Traffickers promise a better life, but once the victim arrives on U.S. soil, the trafficker will take control of the victim’s life.

Aside from poverty, one of the biggest vulnerabilities for victims of labor trafficking is being a child. Children are easily manipulated, and in developing countries, parents send their children away to work.

End Slavery Now, a nonprofit organization that focuses on ending slavery in the world, estimates about a quarter of the world’s slaves are children. Supply demands and a need for unskilled labor are major reasons why traffickers prey on children.

“Traffickers will see these vulnerabilities, and they will offer to meet them,” Reed said.

How do we end labor trafficking? First, we need to learn how to pick up the signs. The biggest tell is that victims are not in control of their lives. The trafficker dictates everything for them: what they eat, what they wear, where they go, and what they do, as in the case of Elijah.

Isolation is another tell. Traffickers want to keep their victims isolated – physically and emotionally – from others to keep their control. In Elijah’s case, his traffickers took him away from his family. When he realized he was being trafficked, Elijah had no way to tell his parents.

“When we talk about isolating, traffickers will weaken the existing support system by causing the victim to rely fully on them physically and emotionally,” said Reed. “When they isolate the victim, it’s nearly impossible for that person to get out. It’s a process of detaching them.”

A victim can only get out of their situation when they find a good support system that can help them.

But for us, as third-party citizens, Reed said the worst thing we can do is interfere for the victim. Traffickers are nefarious people who are in complete control of their victims’ lives. Interfering can cause more harm than good for the victims, and you are also putting yourself in danger.

The best thing we can do for victims of human trafficking is praying for them. Pray that God will provide a way for them to get out of their situation. Pray that someone in authority will step in and provide a way to help these victims begin a new life.

Another thing we can do is calling The National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. The Human Trafficking Hotline is a 24/7 call service that will alert law enforcement and provide service for victims of human trafficking.

Human trafficking is a crime that too many people believe does not happen in the U.S. but in foreign countries. It is an everywhere problem. Stand up for those who do not have a voice, for those who are victims in one of the most heinous crimes.

For more information on human trafficking visit The National Human Trafficking Hotline at

If you or someone you know is being trafficked, call The National Human Trafficking Hotline for 24/7 service at 1-888-373-7888.

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