This year marks the fifteen-year anniversary of the United Nations “Palermo Protocol,” which established the first legal definition of human trafficking. Since that time, scores of anti-trafficking NGOs have been created, dozens of countries have passed laws criminalizing human trafficking and everyday citizens are far more aware of the offense than they were fifteen years ago.

1. Lack of definition

However, human trafficking continues to pervade the world due to the ongoing ability of exploiters to generate substantial profits at almost no real risk through the exploitation of a global sub-class of impoverished and vulnerable people. Three primary deficiencies are responsible for this reality.

"...no crime is more distasteful than the stripping of human dignity for the sake of profit."

First, the issue remains mired in definitional confusion as to whether human trafficking is slavery, or the process of entering an individual into a condition of slavery. The term connotes movement and was codified in a trans-national organized crime instrument. However, policy leaders posit that movement of the victim is not relevant to the offense, just the slave-like exploitation. Needless to say, if one cannot be clear on what the offense is, it can be challenging to address it.

2. Lack of information

Second, the anti-trafficking movement has historically suffered from a data deficit. Inflated numbers of victims have been bandied around from the outset without any basis in research. This has led to a loss of credibility with policy makers and donors.

The last five years have seen a shift towards gathering accurate data, but the global paucity of sound research remains a chief hurdle to galvanizing sufficient resources to address the offense.

3. Lack of resources

The third deficit is this resource gap. The United States is the global leader at addressing human trafficking, but it spends more on defense in one day than it has spent in the last fifteen years to combat human trafficking. Anti-trafficking efforts remain hampered by insufficient resources, and until this insufficiency is addressed, advocates will be fighting a valiant but losing battle.

There are somewhere between 21 and 36 million victims of human trafficking and modern-day slavery around the world, generating annual profits for their exploiters that exceed $100 billion. To be sure, no crime is more distasteful than the stripping of human dignity for the sake of profit. This is the essence of human trafficking, and its eradication is long overdue.