What Makes Someone Vulnerable to Human Trafficking?

Traffickers look for people who are vulnerable and therefore easier to exploit. The major factors — on both a societal and personal level — that cause or contribute to people being vulnerable to trafficking include:

  • Political Instability
    War, civil unrest, political conflict, violence, lawlessness, and natural disasters create unstable conditions in which people may live in constant fear with limited options for survival or earning a living. Children may be separated from their families and left without parents or guardians to protect and advise them.

    Political instability may also lead to forced migration where people flee from their homes in search of more stable or secure communities. However, they may instead end up homeless or in temporary settlements, unemployed and possibly unwanted by their host community, and without their familiar family and social networks. Traffickers take advantage of these desperate circumstances.
     
  • Poverty
    Poverty creates despair. Traffickers specifically target poor and marginalized communities to offer vulnerable individuals false opportunities to improve their circumstances. Such people are more likely to take greater risks in order to provide for themselves and their families. Indigenous populations in many countries are often marginalized, which may result in their vulnerability to recruitment by traffickers.
     
  • Racism and the Legacy of Colonialism
    Racism and colonialism contributed to the marginalization of people, particularly indigenous populations. People who experience racism face systemic barriers such as limited access to education, employment, housing, and credit. These continuous instances of discrimination place them at a higher risk of being trafficked.

    Colonialism is the practice by which a nation acquires, controls, and rules a foreign territory for the purpose of exploiting its resources and people. The legacy of colonialism has continued to impact entire communities as people struggle to exercise their basic civil and human rights. Traffickers target people who are marginalized due to racism and colonialism, capitalizing on their vulnerabilities.
     
  • Gender Inequality
    Gender inequality is the disparity between opportunities available to men and women based on gender. In many cultures, women are seen as less than men; are paid less for equal work; have fewer rights; less access to health, education, and property; are expected to be submissive to men; and are therefore vulnerable to recruitment by traffickers.
     
  • Addictions
    Traffickers use substance dependency and addiction to keep control of the trafficked person. Some traffickers purposely supply drugs to vulnerable people to break down their resistance and coerce them into forced labour or sex. As a trafficked person becomes dependent on a particular substance, the trafficker uses that vulnerability to keep them in the cycle of abuse.
     
  • Mental Health
    People with mental health issues face a variety of challenges including isolation, diminished capacity to consent or offer informed consent, and limited ability to assess risk and detect ill-intentions. Traffickers are skilled in detecting these vulnerabilities and manipulating them to their advantage.
  • Gang Involvement
    For gangs, the exploitation of men, women, and children is lucrative and less risky than other trades such as weapons or drugs. Gang members recruit and exploit people in a variety of ways, including sexual exploitation, street begging, street vending, petty crime, and the manufacture and transportation of drugs. Gangs may also coerce their own members and peripheral associates to commit crimes, provide services and labour, and other activities against their will. Females can be exploited through gang involvement by entering as a girlfriend of a gang member, and then being sold within or outside the gang for sexual acts. Often youth are born into gang-involved families and there is the expectation that they will contribute to the family business in any way the gang deems fit.

My Story: I owed a lot of money to criminal organization. I was forced by gang members to start committing crimes such as fraud via running [false identification documents] and opening fraudulent accounts, manipulating banking systems by opening up bank loans, and there were also scams such as getting new furniture, cars, business venture loans, etc. There were times when I was beaten or threatened if I did not produce a particular amount of money. - Leann

  • Online Vulnerability
    Traffickers maintain an online presence to lure vulnerable adults and children with the goal of meeting them in person, to take and circulate explicit photos, and to coerce an individual to comply with their demands. Traffickers often keep compromising photos or video of the people they are exploiting to further their control — they may threaten to publish these images online, or send them to the family and friends of the trafficked person.

 

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