Human trafficking is big business. Bringing in $32 billion a year, it’s second only to drug trafficking in organized crime. In the United States and internationally, forced labor has become a major part of the human trafficking economy.

Catherine Longkumer, Project Manager of the Human Trafficking Initiative, part of the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Service of Chicago, says any industry that uses low-wage labor has potential for exploitation. Foreigners are especially vulnerable. Longkumer says perpetrators commonly use threats of deportation, withholding of documents and identification, even threats of violence against family members to exert their power. Many women are forced into the commercial sex industry. Lured in by traffickers offering food, jobs, or shelter, they are coerced into exploitative situations.

Longkumer adds that law enforcement without proper training often fails to identify human trafficking cases and ends up arresting victims instead of helping them. “Five years from now after they’re out of the academy, if they haven’t seen a trafficking case, it’s not the first thing that comes to their mind and they don’t always necessarily know the appropriate questions to ask because these aren’t…individuals saying, ‘I’m a victim,’ ” Longkumer stresses.

Many of the exploited women don’t necessarily realize they’re the victim of a crime. Equally problematic, when victims are rescued from trafficking, they are immediately in need of a vast array of social services. Furthermore, these cases are very difficult to prosecute. The laws protecting victims of human trafficking are relatively new, and prosecutors are reluctant to take on cases which rely on proving psychological coercion.


  • Melysa Sperber, Director, Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking
  • Catherine Longkumer, Project Manager, Human Trafficking Initiative, Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services of Chicago

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