Global Human Trafficking Networks (GHTNs) all have similar traits, but the networks in Mexico and all of Central America are some of the worst. What does it take for these organizations to run, make money, and survive? Human Trafficking, like any illicit business model, is first driven by demand for the product or service and second, requires a supply of the product. We could say that demand has risen for a multitude of reasons be it pornography, drugs, or an increasing appetite for illicit sex. The demand is high regardless of the factors we attribute to it and the numbers indicate that the demand will continue to increase over the next twenty years. Supply is easy for illicit organizations because criminal organizations have no regulatory agency, ethics controls, or cares of oversight as long as they can remain underground and out of the sight of non-complicit law enforcement.
In many instances, GHTNs use human trafficking to diversify their portfolio. Many GHTNs traffic drugs, weapons, stolen cars, harvested organs, black market appliances, and other illicit activities. The sad part about goods versus services is that you can only sell drugs, guns, and black market appliances once, but you can sell a human being thousands of times. GHTNs tend to have both licit and illicit activities going on simultaneously and run their operations like corporations. GHTNs across the globe often leverage their wealth and services to pay off politicians, law enforcement, clergy, and others who may become a road block to their business. In many parts of the globe, if the road blocks can’t be paid off, they are simply eliminated.
One of the interesting phenomena we have identified not only south of the border, but also in Asia, is that where effective counter drug operations are taking place, human trafficking increases. This increase replaces the lost revenue and ensures that the GHTN will survive. This works well because law enforcement across the globe tends to form organizations to go after one part of the business portfolio. Here in the US we often see counter gang task forces, counter drug task forces, and usually somewhere down the line, a human trafficking task force will be formed. However, none of these task forces fully touch each other and often do not work together. This works to the GHTN network’s advantage a lot of the time as law enforcement has success in one area, so the business shifts and goes another direction. Mexico is a great example of shifting criminal business portfolios. A Mexican GHTN often traffics drugs and guns, runs brothels, uses Coyotes to traffic people into the US, conducts kidnappings for ransom, extortion, and other illicit activities. Mexico is presently being called the murder capital of the world for good reason as the GHTNs fight each other for control of the neighborhoods and the business.
This is a grim reality for people escaping conflict areas around the globe. That reality is that it is better to take your chances in a friendly government refugee camp than to remain where they are. News reports from US Border Security Detention Centers paints a picture of horrific conditions and alleged human rights violations. What the news does not show you is that 80% of those who are smuggled around the globe are abused, raped, starved, extorted, and some are murdered. The debate over the “Rape Trees” along the southern US border is a benign reminder of a greater reality. Mothers put their daughters on birth control and have them carry condoms before they attempt their illicit travels. Families expect their women to be sexually exploited as part of the cost of travel. Some of these women end up being trafficked by the GHTN for years instead of actually making it to their destination.
It is easy for the world to look at Human Trafficking as a single crime. However, it is generally part of a very diversified illicit business model. If we are really going to stop the exploitation of humans for sex, indentured servitude, and every other way, we have to look at the networks across the globe as corporations and go after their entire business model and not just part of their portfolio. As I have seen in other parts of the world, targeting GHTNs can be extremely uncomfortable. It is not pleasant to expose political leaders, rogue law enforcement officers, members of the clergy, business leaders, and everyday people who are complicit in these networks. Many do not have the heart or even the grit to tread in politically sensitive areas that may create diplomatic rifts and the loss of friends. GHTN networks are often robust and well established. The question is, why do we allow them to thrive? As long as we all agree that Human Trafficking is bad and it is not polarizing, the news media will not spend any time on it. Perhaps it is time that it becomes polarizing and we get the news media to stop fanning the flames of hate, racism, and partisan politics. Perhaps it is time for us to chase the criminals who exploit humans and put an end to human slavery!