Human Trafficking: The Basics

Posted by Mark Lagon
April 1, 2008
Ambassador Lagon Visits BICE School in Cote d"™Ivoire

Ambassador Mark Lagon serves as Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

Every day, all over the world, people are coerced into bonded labor, exploited in domestic servitude, and enslaved in agricultural work and in factories. The majority of transnational victims are females trafficked into prostitution.

We estimate that approximately 800,000 people are trafficked internationally each year; millions more are enslaved in their own countries. Approximately eighty percent are women and girls, and up to half are minors.

In 2000, the U.S. Congress passed, and the President signed, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which created the office I now head. This legislation legally defines ‘severe forms of human trafficking in persons' as involving ‘force, fraud, or coercion.'

‘Trafficking in persons' and even ‘human trafficking' are jargon terms—trafficking is not chiefly about moving people across borders. Trafficking involves extreme exploitation and control (such as through debt bondage). It is truly a modern-day form of slavery. It shouldn't be regulated; it must be abolished.

Part of our Congressional mandate is to produce the annual Trafficking in Persons Report every June. The report spells out what countries around the world are doing on the three "P” approach: prosecution, protection, and prevention, and what more can be done together between the United States and other countries on all three fronts.

Countries are ranked into "tiers” based on efforts to implement the three "P” approach for the elimination of human trafficking. Prosecution includes passing comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation and criminal, not just civil, prosecutions of traffickers. Protection includes identifying, protecting, and assisting victims, as well as encouraging government and NGO cooperation. Prevention includes raising public awareness and training law enforcement and first-responders.

Human trafficking is a gross human rights crime that steals peoples' freedom and dignity. The report is an invaluable tool in drawing the world's attention to the existence of modern-day slavery.

In the last five years, over 100 countries have passed new laws or amended existing law to toughen penalties for human trafficking. Thousands of criminals around the world are now prosecuted when, just five years ago, only a handful wound up in jail.

We also work diplomatically with foreign governments to encourage progress in combating trafficking and manage anti-trafficking funds. In FY 2007, the USG spent approximately $74 million to fund 154 anti-trafficking projects in about 70 countries.

In my role as Ambassador, I engage diplomatically with representatives of foreign governments here in Washington and abroad. In my 10 month tenure, I have traveled to East Asia, India, the Middle East, Russia, Central Europe, three regions of Africa, and Mexico twice.

I also regularly meet and collaborate regularly with representatives of the NGO community; I brief Members of Congress on issues related to trafficking; and I work with colleagues in the State Department to ensure that sex trafficking and slave labor are given proper consideration in our larger foreign policy calculations.

While there are successes and defeats in any worthy endeavor, I need only think of the exploited, abused and brutalized individuals I have met in my travels around the globe, whenever the work we are engaged in seems daunting. As survivors they are inspiring. And we are tangibly helping people reclaim their dignity.

On my first trip to Southeast Asia, I met Aye Aye Win, a young Burmese woman who dared to search for work beyond her own tortured country. A recruiter painted a beautiful picture of work in a neighboring country. Aye Aye assumed substantial debt to cover up-front costs required by the recruiter for this job placement.

Together with some 800 Burmese migrants, many children, Aye Aye was "placed” in a shrimp farming and processing factory. But it wasn't a job. It was a prison camp.

The isolated 10-acre factory was surrounded by steel walls, 15 feet tall with barbed wire fencing, located in the middle of a coconut plantation far from roads. Workers weren't allowed to leave and were forbidden phone contact with any one outside. They lived in run-down wooden huts, with hardly enough to eat.

Aye Aye is a brave, daring soul. She tried to escape with three other women. But factory guards caught them and dragged them back to the camp. They were punished as an example to others, tied to poles in the middle of the courtyard, and refused food or water. Aye Aye told me how her now beautiful hair was shaved off as another form of punishment, to stigmatize her. And how she was beaten for trying to flee.

Beaten. Tortured. Starved. Humiliated. Is this not slavery??

Naturally, the question arises, what can you do to fight modern day slavery?

Human trafficking happens right here in the United States. I chair an interagency group on fighting trafficking at home and abroad. When we ask others around the world to work with us, it is important that we speak on how we are addressing the problem. You too can keep watch for freedom. If you see signs of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation of a child or adult in the U.S. or abroad, notify the police or call the U.S. human trafficking hotlines: 1-888-3737-888 or 1-888-428-7581 or 1-800-THE LOST or 1-866-DHS-2ICE.

You can help safeguard freedom in travel by fighting child sex tourism where predators travel to use children in prostitution. Keep vigiliant against it. And ask local travel agencies, hotels, and tour operators to sign the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children in Travel and Tourism at

Finally, speak out about freedom. Talk to one person about modern day slavery and introduce them to our Web site at, and raise the level of public awareness to this global problem.



April 2, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ All DipNoters -- I personally suggest that before or after reading the State Department Reports on Trafficking, all of us guys should watch the "Human Trafficking" movie with Donald Sutherland and Mira Sorvino.

Before watching the movie, I was just reading the State Department Trafficking in Persons Reports ( in a way ordinary readers do. Just theoretical.

After the movie, I understood the real importance and the Global effort of these State Department's Reports.

Now, I read them with my soul.

Tennessee, USA
April 4, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

What do you call it when it persists here in America?

What do you call it when it persists in certain Religious context here in America protected by separation of Church and State?

What do you call it when American single females are known to have been detained in other countries without American reaction?

What do you call it when economic conditions force a male or female to sell themselves out of necessity rather than force?

Is this all not the same?

The owning of any Human being by any other is not legitimate in any context anywhere, including America if democracy is an actuality.

Tennessee, USA
April 4, 2008

Joe in Tennessee writes:

I'm afraid I missed this part of the posting in recognition of not only this day in American History but for all that is left to do:

American, with help from its allies and the continuous perseverance of the DoS as done one extraordinary job in bringing archaic cultures into the reality of civility and its meaning to all of its citizens. More exposure with actual change has come forth in the last decade then ever before in human history and the DoS is directly responsible for much of it, regardless of who has been in the Executive Office.

Kudos for all personal is often neglected as it seems an expectation; but, I could not imagine the number of people who have been saved through YOUR concerted efforts in this specific problem as well as other undertakings of those less fortunate in attempting to create democracies worldwide.

It is why America is still the standard of humanity worldwide.

April 5, 2008

John in Greece writes:

@ Joe in Tennessee -- I never met anyone who told me that will visit the U.S. ...for sex-tourism.

On the contrary, I know plenty of people who travel to Cuba, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, Burma, Algeria, Syria or Iran etc. with this scope.

Ambassador Mark Lagon shared with us an extremely important and humanitarian DipNote and you attempt to make the conversation just "inside America oriented".


At least, America, makes an effort concerning this huge issue; a Global mission.

Do you know how much it costs and how difficult it is to have a Global Report on anything?

What the other countries do? NOTHING AT ALL!

Please specify your query.

Maryland, USA
April 5, 2008

Louisa in Maryland writes:

Transforming consciousness is the Great Work. The State Department staff continues the international partnership effort to stamp out slavery -- every form of it. Americans can be proud of that.

April 6, 2008

NB in Pakistan writes:

Some time back approximately 44 people from rural areas in Pakistan, that included some women and children, were lured by offers of good jobs by agents and taken to Iran. There they were literally sold as slaves. Somehow four of them managed to escape and crossed the borders and walked some 700 miles of desert & mountaneous terrain back to their village. The matter came to the attention of a television channel and it brought the whole affair to the attention of the public. The Federal Investigation Agency of Pakistan came into action and with the help of the Foreign succeeded in bringing back 23 of the enslaved men, women, & children. Some 16 still remain in slavery in Iran and nobody knows why. One wonders with disgust.

Arizona, USA
April 16, 2008

Elena in Arizona writes:

Three documents are required a none expire visa, passport, boarder crosser.

Instead they will pay some different coyotes thousands of dollars to bring illegally.

The come here and purchase identities they do not care who lives they are getting ready to destroy.

See our government makes their business to determine to know who is here when they came what is there address who is their employers and so on and so forth.

We not talking about 10,000 we are talking about millions.

What do you think it is very important to answer the door to our census officials?

This is a none stopping conversation for me.


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