Even as federal officials are paying more attention to human trafficking, the crime remains the fastest-growing criminal activity in the world.
The U.S. Department of Defense has increased employee training on human trafficking, and awareness among employees has jumped from 72 percent to 90 percent since 2008, according to a report released Monday.
Department of Defense staffers who work outside the U.S. and manage military contracts have been traned to pick up on common practices used by traffickers, according to Sam Yousef from the DoD.
"You might not think much of it before you take our training," Yousef said. "But through increased awareness, you're able to connect the dots more."
But at the same time, human trafficking continues to grow. The International Labor Organization estimates that trafficking is now a $150 billion industry, which is about three times larger than previous estimates. About $99 million of that is from the forced commercial sex trade, according to an ILO report, and the other $51 billion is from forced work, including construction, mining, agriculture and domestic servitude.
There are 20.9 million victims worldwide, and 5.5 million of those are children.
The reason for the boom in trafficking is that it's extremely lucrative, according to the ILO.
“Forced labour is bad for business and development and especially for its victims," said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder. "Our new report adds new urgency to our efforts to eradicate this fundamentally evil but hugely profitable practice as soon as possible.”
The practice is also relatively low-risk. Like drug and gun trafficking, it's an industry based on supply and demand, and every year traffickers "generate billions of dollars by victimizing millions of people," according to the anti-trafficking group Polaris Project.
Trafficking takes place around the world, including the U.S. The Polaris Project's anti-trafficking hotline has received calls from every state in the country. In the U.S., trafficking often occurs as escort services, brothels disguised as massage or spa businesses, and prosititution. It has also been found on farms, in restaurants and in carnivals.
Traffickers use false promises of lucrative jobs, education or a loving relationship to entrap victims. Sometimes poor families are told that their children are being taken to work in garment factories, or even as models. Labor recruiters indebt their victims with hefty recruitment and travels fees, and take advantage of victims' unfamiliarity with foreign laws and culture.