More countries are passing laws to combat the trafficking of human beings, but for organized crime the people trade is one of the biggest sources in revenue. At a recent seminar in Rome, the top United States expert on human trafficking said greater efforts must be made to educate societies to understand that enslaving people and creating demand for victims is wrong.
In the past two years, 80 countries have passed anti-trafficking legislation. Efforts have been increasing to combat the sale of people within or across national borders. But for organized crime, the people trade is an important business.
The State Department's director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, John Miller, recently took part in a seminar in Rome. The meeting, organized by the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican was titled: "Joining the Fight against Modern Slavery".
During the seminar, Mr. Miller said laws to combat human trafficking in many countries are good, but too often they are not enforced.
"You can have a law saying something is a crime, but if you do not arrest, prosecute, and convict and throw the person in jail, what good is the law," he said.
Mr. Miller said in some countries the conduct is not criminalized. In most cases, it is criminalized, but the punishment is very weak. There are countries, Mr. Miller added, that have laws providing lower sentences for a trafficker than someone who kidnaps or rapes.
"But a trafficker is someone that is holding someone against their will and has not only kidnapped, but forces that person into hundreds of thousands of rapes," he said.
During a four-day visit to Italy at the end of October, Mr. Miller met with Italian government officials, faith-based organizations and other groups in an effort to raise awareness in the illegal trafficking of prostitutes and forced laborers.
Catholic agency Caritas is one of many faith-based organization that attempts to provide care and support to the victims. Sebastian Dechamps, of Caritas, also participated in the seminar.
He said today we live in a society that is driven by consumerism and people too are treated as merchandise.
"People are looking for cheap merchandise," he said. "They are trying to look for cheap sex, cheap labor. I think that is one of the major drivers."
Mr. Deschamps says an estimated 120,000 women are trafficked into Western Europe every year from Central and Eastern Europe. These are mainly for the sex industry. Demand, he says, is one of the main challenges.
Mr. Miller says he agrees.
"Somebody is using and owning and abusing the victim," he said. "Somebody is using that victim in a factory or somebody is using that victim in a brothel or someone is using that victim on the streets, in the sex trade. This does not happen without demand."
The demand is mainly in the West and this is where, Mr. Miller says, societies need to be educated about what human trafficking is.
"We have to change the attitude of societies so that they know that enslaving somebody in a factory is wrong, that they know that creating demand for sex trafficking of victims through prostitution is wrong," he said.
But there is another type of education that needs to take place at the same time. Mr. Miller says potential victims in developing countries must be warned to be wary of offers of restaurant jobs or modeling jobs in other countries. He says in most cases these jobs do not exist.
According to Mr. Miller, all efforts must be made to ensure that after traffickers are caught, they are prosecuted and their punishment is appropriate to the crime. And, he adds, the focus of prosecution should not be only on traffickers in source countries or on the victims themselves.
"We have an obligation to the victims, those who have suffered," he said. "We must make every effort to restore them, they are souls, their bodies have been ravaged. It is not only shelter, it is counseling, sometimes it is education, it is finding employment."
Up to 800,000 people every year are trafficked across international borders. The United Nations has estimated that the global annual profit of trafficking in persons is between five and $7 billion. That makes it second only to trafficking in drugs.