In early 2017, a member of Alaskan Airlines’ cabin crew became suspicious of a dishevelled teenage girl travelling with a well-dressed man on a flight between Seattle and San Francisco.
Trained in spotting human trafficking, the attendant left a note for the girl in the bathroom. The reply confirmed her fears, and a message was relayed to the San Francisco police who arrested the man on landing.
There is even neglect when it comes to either reporting on, or prosecuting cases of human trafficking
Such success stories are all too rare, however. A United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report based on data from 155 countries showed that two out of every five countries covered by the report had not recorded a single trafficking conviction.
“Many governments are still in denial,” said Executive Director of UNODC, Antonio Maria Costa. “There is even neglect when it comes to either reporting on, or prosecuting cases of human trafficking.”
Sexual exploitation is the most common form of human trafficking, accounting for 79%, according to the report. And in some parts of the world, women trafficking women is the norm.
Forced labor makes up 18% of human trafficking, although the report states that this figure may be a misrepresentation as the crime is less frequently detected and reported than trafficking for sexual exploitation.
If we do not overcome this knowledge crisis, we will be fighting the problem blindfolded
Costa noted that the report increases understanding of modern slave markets, but also exposes a high level of ignorance.
“We have a big picture, but it is impressionistic and lacks depth,” he said. “We fear the problem is getting worse, but we cannot prove it for lack of data, and many governments are obstructing.”
The aim must be to improve information gathering and sharing on human trafficking.
“If we do not overcome this knowledge crisis, we will be fighting the problem blindfolded,” Costa warned.