There is a distressing story of modern slavery in this feature in the Detroit Free Press but it is just one example of a human trafficking trend that sweeps thousands of individuals into servitude in the United States alone, and countless numbers internationally.

Eight in ten known trafficking cases involve the sex industry, which suggests that women are more likely to be enslaved than men (are the latter more subject to forced labour?). The worst of it is, however, that roughly half of those trafficked in the US are children. Teenage girls, for example, forced into prostitution and too terrified to run away.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, human trafficking has become the second-fastest-growing criminal industry — just behind drug trafficking — with children accounting for roughly half of all victims. Of the 2,515 cases under investigation in the U.S. in 2010, more than 1,000 involved children.

The United Nations estimates it’s a $32-billion industry, with half of the money coming from industrialized countries.

Given that so many of the victims are minors, you would expect more of a public outcry — something equivalent to the headlines and in-depth reporting we have seen over the sexual abuse of children by priests. I did see an article in the New York Times recently by Nicholas Kristoff, but it was about girl sex slaves in south-east Asia, Thailand, I think.

What about a big, NYT-led campaign in the States to flush out the prostitution ring bosses and their pimps?

It strikes me that this dreadful trend has grown, like the drug trade, because of demand.

As long as sexual appetites are stoked by movies, advertising and the internet there will be money to be made in luring and forcing women into this horrible slavery. Another factor that makes this easier is the tolerance of many countries for prostitution as a legitimate form of work. Absolute humbug.

As for the abuse of domestic (and other) workers, there is obviously a culture in some countries that should be challenged by human rights organisations, especially the UN, and by the countries that have diplomatic and trade dealings with them. It is scandalous if political and commercial considerations are pushing basic human rights violations into the background.

Illegal immigration contributes to the labour trafficking problem in the states and elsewhere. The freeing up of immigration laws would address this, even though it is politically unpopular. Demand for dirt-cheap labour must help to drive this problem too.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet