By Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., D.N.C.C.M., F.A.A.E.T.S.

homeless boy sleeping on sidewalk

There is a reason fairy tales most commonly end with happy endings. It is because nobody wants to face the realization of human depravity. The story would no longer be a “fairy tale” but rather a “nightmare”. It would no longer be a tale of children, rather a tale that haunts our dreams and our imaginations.

Human trafficking is such a nightmare. It is essentially the modern day equivalent of human slavery. According to the International Labour Organization, there is an estimated 40.3 million people who have been placed into slavery, including 24.9 million in forced labor and 15.4 million in forced marriage. This means that there are more than 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every 1,000 people around the world.

As a society, we barely acknowledge this most egregious form of human cruelty; and most times, it is through our cinematic presentations that we are informed of such issues. Yet, we go to bed hardly acknowledging the reality of this savage issue. We pretend that the issue is not occurring in our background. Did you know that according to The United States Department of Labor it has identified 148 goods from 76 countries made by child labor or forced labor?

Human trafficking is the intentional forcing of another into slavery. The individual may be forced into slavery because of another, or they may be forced into slavery due to necessity, or as a result of an addiction.


People who are trafficked are often the most vulnerable in our society. Those struggling with substance abuse issues are at the top of the list. They are often ripe for the picking and become prey for the predator seeking to pounce on their vulnerability. Recent research has shown that traffickers are no longer just kidnapping individuals off of the street, but they are now employing new tactics to find their potential victims. Traffickers are placing ads in newspapers, online forums, local poster boards, and even soliciting young people on school campuses. The traffickers convince the individuals that they are offering an opportunity.

The Berkshire Eagle has recently reported that “traffickers have even parked outside methadone clinics in Massachusetts and lured women with promises of drugs, food and housing.” The traffickers are finding that the illegal substances act as a temptation for individuals who are struggling with an addiction. “Donna Gavin, head of the Boston Police Department’s Human Trafficking Unit, sees an explicit connection between drug addiction and exploitation…And once a victim becomes embedded in the ‘the life’ of sexual exploitation, drug addiction can also develop out the need to cope with the horror of one’s daily life.”

Children are the most vulnerable and susceptible to become victims of human trafficking. The ILO has indicated that 1 in 4 victims of modern slavery are children.


Liam Neeson’s film “Taken” has many realistic scenes portraying human trafficking. In fact, did you know that many traffickers force the trafficked not only into physical slavery, but into a life of addiction and bondage to a variety of substances. The traffickers may force the substances on their victims to make them obey; to encourage them to work harder and longer; or to numb them out until they are sold off or traded for other commodities.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, human traffickers frequently use drugs as “bait” to attract, allure and recruit individuals with substance issues. You do not have to be an addict to become prey to these traffickers. In fact, you may have only begun using, when traffickers may see this as an opportunity to snag you with the substance. The NIDA states that human trafficking and trafficking of illegal drugs are often interconnected. The traffickers of humans may be trafficking drugs along with their human cargo, or, they may be forcing the trafficked to smuggle drugs through extortion, abuse and violence. According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, traffickers may smuggle victims into the United States under the guise of credible employment. Once arriving to the U.S., these individuals are reminded that they owe a debt to the trafficker. The trafficker may use threats and intimidation as a source of maintaining their loyalty. They remind their victims that they are illegal aliens and that they will “out them” to the authorities. Thus, a life of indebtedness begins. The human trafficker’s credible employment is rarely credible and it often entails a variety of illegal acts including: sexual exploitation through pornographic films, strip clubs, escort services, and prostitution; working in labor mills; and in some extreme cases, the victim may have his or her own life taken for the illegal organ trade.

All too often, the victims of smuggling and trafficking are encouraged to engage in the use of illegal substances. The traffickers try to maintain a perception of kindness through this manipulative and very deceptive act.


Human trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar industry that is not only fueled by main street, but it is also fueled by Wall Street and other economic factors.

The ILO figures indicate that “out of the 24.9 million people trapped in forced labor, 16  million people are exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, construction or agriculture; 4.8 million persons in forced sexual exploitation, and 4 million persons in forced labor imposed by state authorities.” Furthermore, there is a disproportionate segment of the population that is widely affected by human trafficking; women and girls are frequently forced into labor at a much higher rate than men. Of these victims, “Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labor, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry, and 58% in other sectors.”

Human trafficking can and does occur in every corner of the world. As an American and a Canadian, I have often heard that “Canada is a relatively safe place,” but recent reports indicate that “over 90 % of the girls being trafficked in Canada were born here, and experts suspect there are thousands of them.” Sadly, human trafficking comes with no ally. If there is money to be made, those who have no moral backbone will surely take advantage of another.


The following indicators are not necessarily an exhaustive list. Nor may the indicators be representative of all cases. It is important to have an awareness of the warning signs.
Be aware of an individual’s physical health and hygiene
• Does the individual appear malnourished?
• Are there any physical signs of abuse, maltreatment or neglect?
Be aware of an individual’s behaviors, attitudes, and overall mental health
• Does the individual exhibit unusual or heightened fears, anxieties, paranoias, or nervousness?
• Does the individual avoid making eye contact?
• Does the individual avoid interacting with first responders?
• Does the individual avoid interacting with others?
• Are you aware of any inconsistencies in the individual’s life stories?
• Does the individual appear to be disoriented (confused with dates, times, persons, or places)?
Be aware of an individual’s work and living conditions
• Is the individual a known prostitute?
• Does the individual appear to be of age?
• Does the individual work excessively long hours?
• What are the security measures taken at the individual’s place of residence or work (e.g. multiple cameras, window bars, barbed wire, canines, etc.)?
Be aware of the individual’s personal control
• Does the individual lack personal autonomy?
• What are the known limitations placed on an individual by another?
• Do you know of any particular restrictions placed on this individual?
• Do they have restricted access to money, financial records, or bank accounts?
• Does someone else tend to speak on his or her behalf?
• What access does this individual have to his or her own forms of identification (I.D. or Passport)?


Human trafficking is not only an injustice to the victim, but it is an injustice unto the families and friends of that victim. And no matter where you live on this planet, chances are that it is happening in your corner of the world. Research has shown that the greater the levels of economic poverty; the higher likelihood that you could become a victim of human trafficking. Moreover, the odds are increased that your community has a human slave when your economy is robust and flourishing. Human trafficking affects all economies and all corners of the world. There is one absolute commonality amongst the victims of human trafficking; the loss of personal freedom.

The good news is that a victim of human trafficking does not have to remain a victim. Nor will all predators remain at large. The victim can make a healthy recovery, but this will take time and patience of those who are involved with the individual. As a family member, it is important that you focus on helping the individual recover and not on the egregious nature of their victimhood.

Do not avoid helping a friend in crisis. The time is often of the essence. Please contact the authority if you suspect a potential trafficking situation. The following programs are free and confidential.

National Runaway Safeline; help is available 24/7 at 1-800-RUNAWAY (1-800-786-2929)

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

National Human Trafficking Resource Center 1-888-373-7888 Or text “HELP” or “INFO” to BeFree (233733)

Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., D.N.C.C.M., F.A.A.E.T.S.
References Provided Upon Request