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Human trafficking: a misunderstood global scourge

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(These numbers vary tremendously from agency to agency and year to year; they are also far lower than the 21 million to 27 million global trafficking victims reported by the US State Department and, recently, the International Labor Organization. The discrepancy depends on whether "trafficked" involves all forms of forced labor or a subset of situations, usually in which a person is actually moved from place to place. Some UN groups say that it is impossible to calculate an accurate number of victims.)

The US law required the State Department to include an analysis of trafficking in its annual country human rights reports and ordered the US Agency for International Development to put together programs to combat trafficking abroad. The law also established a new form of visa for trafficking victims as a way to encourage them to cooperate with law enforcement without fear of deportation.

But the federal law also gave a new definition of sex trafficking: "the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age." The law states that coercion includes threats of physical or psychological harm to children, and that any person under age 18 induced to participate in commercial sex is a sex-trafficking victim.

The all-encompassing definition of victimhood, say social workers and advocates, is important because it doesn't matter how or why young women first begin "working" in prostitution. Often, girls who end up in prostitution are already vulnerable – they are abuse victims, come from unstable homes, have run away, or suffer mental impairments. Others are simply naive, susceptible to manipulation of a pimp, who often pretends at first to be a boyfriend.

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