Professor Works to Eradicate Modern Slave Trade

Posted: August 17, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: August 14, 2009 at 8:37 am

By Jocelyn Rappaport

Louise Shelley. Photo by Jocelyn Rappaport

Louise Shelley. Photo by Jocelyn Rappaport

Human trafficking is a growing transnational crime, becoming more frequent with the increase in regional conflicts, natural disasters, international mobility, trade, communications and unemployment in developing countries.

According to School of Public Policy Professor Louise Shelley, human trafficking is the most lucrative organized crime activity after drug and arms trade.

A leading expert on transnational crime and terrorism with a particular focus on the former Soviet Union, Shelley is currently completing a book for Cambridge University Press titled “Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective,” in which she examines the consequences of trafficking on social, political and economic life internationally.

Shelley is the founder and director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC) that moved with her from American University to Mason. TraCCC analyzes effective anti-trafficking policies, hosts forums on the subject and develops academic courses on trafficking and a range of transnational crime and corruption issues.

Shelley notes that human trafficking affects the security of a nation because of the multiple actors who profit, such as participants in organized crime, terrorists and the corrupt officials who facilitate this trade.

The phenomenon has grown more global as traffickers move victims across continents where there is demand for cheap labor, sexual services or children. TraCCC has found that trafficking can be a two-way street. For example, women are trafficked out of Russia for sexual exploitation, and men from Central Asia are moved into Russia for labor exploitation.

Human trafficking is not just an international problem. Shelley indicates that it is a problem here at home. Although most victims in the United States are exploited for labor, an official U.S. government estimate suggests that thousands of foreigners annually are trafficked into the United States for sexual exploitation. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that the largest number of U.S. sexual exploitation victims is found among teenage American youth.

Shelley recommends more attention be paid to the business of human trafficking. As part of her research, she analyzes the various business models different regions use. Some are trade models requiring training to target maximum profit, while others focus on volume.

“Much more can be accomplished if we analyze the traffickers, their modes of operation and the ways in which their proceeds are used and laundered,” Shelley says.

Shelley recommends more attention be paid to the business of human trafficking. She adds that while the legislative focus is on the victim, more attention can be devoted to dismantling the criminal network. She says that much more education regarding this phenomenon is needed.

This article originally appeared in 2009 Policy Impact, a publication of the School of Public Policy.

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