A $32-billion-a-year industry, human trafficking is the world's fastest growing criminal enterprise, according to the U.S. State Department.
Victims are exploited in varying corners of the world, in dictator-run countries and democracies, yet many facets of their horrific experiences share familiar narratives.
At one point or another, vulnerable victims are often exploited by someone they trust and are then stripped of their dignity and subjected to horrors.
During Human Trafficking Awareness Month, activists and survivors hope that by telling these stories, the world will get closer to putting an end to the crime.
Cambodian Girl Sold for Her Virginity
After racking up an exorbitant debt with a loan shark, Kieu’s mother sold her 12-year-old for sex, CNN reported in 2013.
The desperate mom secured a "certificate of virginity" from a doctor for her daughter and sold the girl to man who raped her in a hotel for two days.
After the ordeal, Kieu was sold to brothels on three occasions and finally escaped to a safe house after learning that her mom planned to send her away for a six-month prostitution stint.
Cambodia is on the State Department’s Tier 2 trafficking list, which means the country has a "very significant" number of trafficking victims and the government hasn’t provided proof that it’s beefing up its efforts to combat the crime.
How to help: Daughters of Cambodia provides sex trafficking victims with social and psychological services and offers them job opportunities at one of their eight fair-trade businesses. Find out more about the organization and how you can get involved here.
Abused American Teen Coerced by Pimp
Tessa was sexually abused by her dad for the first time when she was 7. Her drug-addicted mom was too consumed with her own issues to get involved, according to nonprofit Not For Sale, a group that supports sex trafficking survivors.
When Tessa was a sophomore in high school, she met Jared, whom she didn’t know was a pimp.
He showered her with gifts and dates, and often reminded her that no one else could possibly love her because she was "damaged."
Jared soon convinced Tessa to sell her body for sex and would attack her and deprive her of food if she did not meet her quota. He kept all of the money she made and forced her to tattoo his name on her neck.
Tessa eventually escaped and found refuge with Not For Sale. Her story is a reminder that sex trafficking is thriving in the United States where an estimated 100,000 children are in the sex trade, according to ECPAT-USA, a nonprofit that fights the sexual exploitation of children.
How to help: Not For Sale, a San Francisco-based organization, provides trafficking survivors and people in at-risk communities with shelter, health care and legal services. After undergoing the initial recovery phase, the group helps its clients find education and employment opportunities. Find out more about the organization and how you can get involved here.
Man Exploited by Cousin in Peru’s Gold Trade
Oscar was elated when his cousin urged him to work in the mines in Madre de Dios where he would be compensated with “chunks of gold," according to In Sight Crime.
After traveling for five days by river to Peru's south-eastern Amazon region , the 16-year-old was shocked to learn that his relative had sold him to the mine and that he would have to work for 90 days, moving wheelbarrows filled with rocks and sand to pay off his cousin’s fee.
Illegal gold mining in Peru brings in about $3 billion a year, more than the country’s infamous drug trade.
Two weeks into the stint, Oscar contracted malaria and was left to die. Fellow deprived slaves kept him alive by sharing their meager rations with him.
The teen ultimately worked for eight months to fulfill his “contract” before he was allowed to leave and was given 10 grams of gold, which he sold for $115.
But after escaping, Oscar developed yellow fever and borrowed money from his mother to pay his medical bills. He eventually returned to the jungle to work to pay off his debt.
How to help: The Blue Heart Campaign fights human trafficking and supports survivors. Peru, which saw more than 1,500 trafficking cases filed between 2007 and 2013, joined the initiative last year. Find out more about the organization and how you can get involved here.
Poor Parents Sold Indian Daughter Into Slavery
India is the world’s largest tea exporter, but workers are paid such low wages, that the farms are also ripe for traffickers searching for slaves.
Elaina’s impoverished tea-picking parents earned the standard 12 pence an hour (18 cents) during the season. So when the garden was closed, and a trafficker approached the 14-year-old’s parents claiming he would “change” their lives, they quickly agreed to send their daughter away with him, the Guardian reported last year.
The girl was promised 1,500 rupees a month. Instead, she was imprisoned in her trafficker’s home for four years where she started work at 4 a.m., was often raped and was not allowed to leave the house or contact her family.
Elaina finally broke free after she was sold to a new owner who had compassion for the girl and send her home.
Experts say that in Delhi alone, there are an estimated 100,000 girls as young as 12, like Elaina, who are trafficked as domestic workers.
How to help: Destiny Rescue rehabilitates and empowers children who have been trafficked in India, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar and protects at-risk victims through its prevention programs. Find out more about the organization and how you can get involved here.
Elderly Man Lures Teen to Thai Jungle Camp
Abdurrahim, 18, of northern Bangladesh was eager to find a job and was heartened when an elderly man offered him an opportunity making about $6 an hour, the BBC reported.
The man took the teen to Cox’s Bazaar, a fishing port, where he was promptly tied up and drugged. Abdurrahim awoke on a boat, where he spent about a week at sea getting repeatedly beaten, and eventually docked on the Thai coast.
Thailand is listed in the Tier 3 category of the State Department’s watch list, which means that the government doesn’t comply with the minimum standards of combating trafficking and has made no indication of doing so. Corrupt officials at the borders help facilitate trafficking victims between Thailand, and its neighbors, including Burma and Cambodia.
Abdurrahim was finally taken to a concealed jungle camp where he was deprived of food and survived by eating leaves.
He escaped only because Manit Pianthiong, a local district chief, has committed his work to fighting human trafficking.
How to help: In less than three years, the Exodus Road has rescued 326 slaves in India, Southeast Asia and the United States with its investigative teams and strategic partnerships with local authorities. Find out more about the organization and how you can get involved here.