Here’s how we are working to see that happen right now.
Sex trafficking is a form of modern slavery in which someone coerces another person into commercial sex or exploits a child in the commercial sex trade. Simply, it is sexual violence as a business. The nightmare of forced prostitution thrives when law enforcement cannot or does not protect vulnerable children and women.
The vast majority of victims of trafficking come from backgrounds of poverty. Impoverished women and girls are especially susceptible to traffickers’ schemes of deception because the desperation of their economic situation makes them (or their parents or caretakers) more willing to take risks – so they are more likely to accept a perpetrators’ fraudulent job offer or insincere marriage proposal, to move to another location or migrate to another country, or to believe other deceptive techniques criminals use to entrap victims.
Once trafficked, victims find themselves facing violence as a constant threat. In addition to serial rape, children and forced adults in the commercial sex trade are particularly vulnerable to physical assault from owners, pimps, recruiters and customers. In IJM cases, sex trafficking survivors have described being beaten with sticks, clubs, electrical cords and metal rods; forcibly injected with narcotics; and forced to watch their own children be physically abused. They are at high risk of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted illnesses.
Though sex trafficking is a worldwide phenomenon, it is most pervasive in countries with weak justice systems, where perpetrators know they are unlikely to face any significant consequences for profiting from repeated sexual assault. The good news is that, because the crime is an economic one, traffickers, pimps and others who profit from forced prostitution are particularly sensitive to law enforcement action. When the likelihood of serving serious jail time and paying significant financial damages increases, the potential financial rewards are no longer worth the high risk, and traffickers change their behaviour.
Cybersex trafficking is also on the rise as internet access increases everywhere. Now, pedophiles anywhere in the world can direct live sexual abuse of boys and girls hidden in private homes or internet cafes. Learn more.
We identify children and adults forced into the commercial sex trade, support professional law enforcement rescue operations and ensure that all people, including non-trafficked individuals who may be present, are treated with dignity during the operation.
We partner with local authorities to help build strong cases against traffickers, pimps and other perpetrators and support their prosecution.
We create individual treatment plans for each survivor, partner with excellent aftercare homes, provide trauma counselling and support access to school and vocational opportunities.
We provide training and hands-on mentoring to law enforcement, judges, prosecutors and other professionals, and advocate for improvements to the justice system that will ensure cases are heard and survivors are protected.
1 UNICEF. State of the World’s Children 2005.
2 United Nations. “UNODC Launches global initiative to fight human trafficking.”
* A pseudonym
Forced labour slavery uses deception, threats or violence to coerce someone to work for little to no pay. Although slavery has been outlawed in nearly every country, millions of men, women and children are working as slaves in brick kilns, rice mills, garment factories, fishing operations and many other industries.
Forced labour slavery is a violent crime. Physical and sexual assault are rampant: In IJM cases, we have documented forced labour slaves who have been beaten, gang raped, locked in tiny rooms, starved and even killed. Victims who try and escape commonly report being tracked down, beaten and returned to the facility. But many victims of slavery don’t try to run away, because owners use fear and deception that traps them more strongly than physical locks and walls.
One of the most common techniques to entrap labourers is through false debts. An owner lures a poor person into slavery by offering a small advance payment for their labour. The owner then ensures it is impossible for the slave to ever repay by inflating the debt owed with exorbitant interest charges, not paying the victim the promised wages and prohibiting him or her from working anywhere else. These false debts can be passed from one generation to the next; we have identified entire families (from grandparents to parents to children) who have been forced to work for years after accepting advance payments as low as $20.
We identify people trapped in slavery, partner with local authorities to conduct rescue operations and ensure each victim is legally emancipated and receives government support.
We advocate for police reports to be filed against owners or traffickers, and support prosecution of slave owners.
We create individualised care plans for each person to respond to trauma and pursue dignifying jobs and educational opportunities.
We provide hands-on mentoring for law enforcement, government officials and partner organisations. We also create social demand and advocate with state and national leaders to make ending slavery a top priority.
For poor families, a house and a small patch of land are often their only source of shelter, food and desperately needed income. But for many people in poverty—particularly widowed women and orphaned children—even this fragile foundation is not safe. Powerful relatives or neighbours often steal their meagre property with violence or lies, and fear no consequences.
Women in developing countries are particularly at risk to property grabbing, especially in contexts in which they are viewed as less valuable, subordinate or even as property themselves.
In Africa, property grabbing often happens after the death of a husband or father, when widows and orphans are particularly vulnerable. Relatives or neighbours quickly divide up the home or land, and the surviving widow or orphans are left homeless and stripped of their belongings.
If a widow refuses to leave, she and her children may be chased out violently. Women and children we have represented report being menaced, threatened with machetes and physically assaulted; some have had their homes destroyed by perpetrators intent on making their property uninhabitable.
The perpetrators of property grabbing are often related to their victims, so police may dismiss cases as a “family matter.” Law enforcement agencies lack the training and resources to meet the overwhelming need.
With no help from the justice system, survival itself becomes a struggle for a victim of property grabbing. Homeless, she may be forced to relocate somewhere dangerous, or be extremely vulnerable to exploitation as she searches for a home. She may not be able to afford or access food, medical care or other vital needs for herself or her children.
We restore widows and orphans to their homes and defend them against ongoing threats of violence.
We bring criminal cases against perpetrators, particularly where violence, intimidation or fraud have been used.
We provide urgent medical care and counselling, ensure that children can go to school and, where needed, help women begin income-generating projects.
We provide training and hands-on mentoring to police and local leaders on the effective enforcement of land theft laws.
1 Sylvia B. Ondimba. “The World Must Support Its Widows.” The Guardian. June 23, 2011. Web. Available online.
2 UN-HABITAT. “Secure Land Rights for All.” Available online.
Hundreds of millions of the poorest people in the developing world are abused by corrupt police who extort bribes and brutalise innocent citizens, or are held in abusive pre-trial detention. In many places in the developing world, rather than teach their children to run to the police if they are in trouble, parents must teach them to run from the police to stay safe from harm.
In many communities in the developing world, the police can detain suspects in jail with virtually no evidence. In these circumstances, it is easy for officers to frame poor people who may have limited formal education in order to conclude investigations quickly. Poor people can be imprisoned on the basis of a mere accusation, simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or even for being unable to pay a bribe to a corrupt officer.
Without an advocate, victims of false imprisonment can waste away in jail for years of their life—in fact, experts have identified cases in which Kenyan prisoners have been detained up to 17 years before receiving a trial. 3 Court proceedings are often held in official languages—a language the falsely accused person may not speak or understand—and translators are not provided.
For a family struggling in poverty, imprisonment of an innocent breadwinner means that necessities like food, education, shelter, clothing and medicine can slip out of reach. They may be forced to relocate to even more insecure housing, or take their children out of school to work, all because they cannot afford the fees. Most families cannot afford to even visit their loved ones in prison.
In many places in the world, “torture remains a routine part of police work to extract confessions or other information from suspects who refuse to ‘cooperate.’” 4
With insufficient training on professional methods of investigation and virtually no accountability for bad police, corrupt officers can physically and sexually assault those they are meant to protect. The terrifying result is that billions of the poorest people live in communities in which the police not only fail to protect them from violent predators, but where the police themselves become violent predators.
We identify innocent men and women detained without evidence, investigate the case to prove their innocence, and represent them in court to secure their freedom and an acquittal of the false charges against them.
We collaborate with government investigative agencies to prosecute abusive police.
We provide ongoing care to the victim and his family while he is imprisoned, and develop a re-integration plan for self-sufficiency in freedom.
We provide hands-on training and mentoring for police and other officials, and support the government in strengthening the legal safeguards that protect innocent people.
1 Open Society Foundations. Pretrial Detention and Torture: Why Pretrial Detainees Face the Greatest Risk.
2 Independent Policing Oversight Authority. Baseline Survey on Policing Standards and Gaps in Kenya.
3 Open Society Justice Initiative. Pretrial Detention and Torture: Why Pretrial Detainees Face the Greatest Risk.
Sexual violence is a truly global epidemic that leaves millions around the world terrified in their homes, schools and neighbourhoods. Sexual violence can include rape, molestation and other forms of sexual abuse. Although anyone can be a victim of sexual violence, this form of violence most frequently impacts women and girls—and impoverished women and girls are particularly vulnerable1.
In the developing world, the threat of sexual violence is ever-present: Studies find that children are most likely to be victimised by sexual violence in the places where they should feel safest, like their “neighbourhood, home or school.”6 Survivors of sexual violence everywhere face obstacles to justice, but the roadblocks are particularly devastating in the developing world. Victims, even children, are often blamed for the abuse, or their testimonies about the abuse are disregarded, or they are pressured to remain silent because of the intense stigma attached to rape. The perpetrator may offer to pay the victim’s parents some money in exchange for not pressing charges or even marry the victimised child—both of which can be extremely tempting offers for large families struggling to make ends meet. If a police report is made, local police are unlikely to locate and apprehend the suspect, much less conduct an appropriate forensic investigation of the crime scene. If the victim’s case makes it to court, a survivor of assault may be forced to testify in front of his or her attacker. Cases often take years to reach a decision, requiring repeated and often traumatic visits to court. For these reasons, most reported cases never reach the judgment stage. When there are no real consequences for rapists and criminals, vulnerable children and women are left to pay the price.
We ensure the victim is safe from the perpetrator.
We investigate cases, help arrest criminals and support prosecution of rapists and other abusers.
We provide trauma therapy, help survivors prepare to share the truth in court, and support families so survivors can heal in a safe and stable environment.
We provide training and hands-on mentoring to law enforcement, judges, medical and other professionals, and advocate for reforms to the court process to protect vulnerable children and women.
1 United Nations Millennium Project “Taking Action: achieving gender equality and empowering women” P. 112
2 CDC “Together for Girls: We can end sexual violence.”
3 United Nations. “Unite to End Violence Against Women: Fact Sheet.” (2008).
4 United Nations Millennium Project “Taking Action: achieving gender equality and empowering women” P. 112
5 World Health Organization. “World Report on Violence and Health.” 156.
6 Shireen J. Jejeebhoy and Sarah Bott. Non-Consensual Sexual Experiences of Young People: A Review of the Evidence from Developing Countries
Worldwide, an estimated 12 million people are stateless—people who hold no citizenship of any kind. No citizenship means no country claims you. No justice system protects you. There are no guarantees your children will get to go to school or you will be able to find a job that pays a fair wage.
In the mountainous regions spanning several Asian countries, including Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Laos and China, ethnic minority groups known as hill tribes have lived in the same villages for generations. Country borders have changed and laws have developed accordingly, but many hill tribes have slipped through the cracks.
For thousands of hill tribe members, Thailand is the country of their birth, and Thai citizenship is their legal right. However, complex regulations, lack of access to resources, prejudice and government apathy block them from getting required identification documents and registration status to prove their citizenship. Without this documentation, they are not recognised as citizens of their own country. They are stateless.
Without the citizenship documentation that is their legal right, Thai hill tribe members may be denied care at a hospital, prohibited from owning land, and arrested for traveling outside their home district. They are not guaranteed the right to attend school or to a fair wage for their labour. Without the protection of a justice system, women and girls are particularly vulnerable to violence, like sexual abuse and human trafficking.
It should have taken 3 to 6 months to prove that 9-year-old Mali is a citizen of Thailand; instead, it took 2 and a half years of relentless advocacy by IJM. Read her full story.
Written by IJM
Posted on 26 December 2014 under Citizenship rights abuse, Recent posts, Stories of system change.
1 U.N. H.C.R. “Stateless People”
2 IRIN. “In Brief: 12 million people still stateless”
3 Physicians for Human Rights. “No Status: Migration, Trafficking & Exploitation of Women in Thailand”
4 “Searching for Identity,” Yindee Lertharoenchok; Step by Step, UN Interagency Project Newsletter: Fourth Quarter, 2001, Issue 5.