Article written by Bruce Budowle, Ph.D. and Magdalena M. Bus, Ph.D., Center for Human Identification, University of North Texas Health Science Center
Human trafficking is “the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them”1. Victims are forced or exploited into the sex trade, labor or slavery, illegal marriage, begging, (child) soldiers, illicit organ transplantation, and fraudulent adoptions. These activities immensely affect both mental and physical health and quality of life for these victims as well as damage the values that our society holds dearly. The number of victims ranges from a minimum of 12 million to more than 40 million people2. However, since traffickers target vulnerable people who easily can be intimidated and many victims who resist their traffickers will lose their lives, these numbers may be underestimates as many cases may not be reported This terrible scourge of humanity is one of the most profitable of crimes generating upward of $150 billion in profits3 for the traffickers and exploiting women and girls nearly 2.5 times more often than men and boys4. Human trafficking is not a trivial problem with many victims hidden in plain sight. Indeed, in Texas alone, there are more than 300,000 victims of human trafficking predominately for the sex and labor trade5.
12-40 million people trafficked
~$150 billion in profits
The Center for Human Identification (CHI) at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, Texas, is working with governments, crime laboratories, and the public in Central America in the development and capacity building of robust and sustainable forensic systems to combat human trafficking as described in this video. This work involves enhancing the technical capacities of the countries to perform forensic DNA analyses, basic and advanced training on DNA analysis methods; establishment of DNA databases and the procedures and policies to identify the missing or exploited; creation of model legal frameworks and policy guidance for use of forensic data; sample collection strategies for the missing, high-risk groups, and family references; privacy provisions for sample donors; public outreach; and strategies for international sharing of DNA data. The goal of this multi-tiered approach is to develop high-quality, sustainable programs in Central America that have proper privacy protections, similar to those other countries worldwide have enacted, to help identify missing persons and combat some of the ill-effects of human trafficking. The approach for missing persons identification is focused on protecting the vulnerable populations following the highest standards of human rights and building the trust of public opinion in using DNA typing.
In addition, CHI, with support from the State of Texas, has created a standalone humanitarian DNA database to identify the missing and address human trafficking. This database is not linked to the State or National CODIS systems. The database only will serve humanitarian issues. Confidentiality, human rights, and forensic standards will be followed with the operation of this specialized database. Identifying the human remains found within the US and building trust with families from outside the US who are searching for their missing loved ones are the primary goals of this effort.
Another goal of the project addressing the human trafficking problem, particularly in Texas, is to educate the community, current and future healthcare providers, and law enforcement in identifying the signs of diverse forms of exploitation and provide information on how best to assist victims. These red flags include, but are not limited to: circumstances in which a person 1) works exceptionally long hours without a break, 2) is unpaid or paid minimally, 3) displays signs of physical trauma and/or very poor health, 4) suffers from several sexually transmitted diseases, 5) has had a number of abortions, and/or 6) suffers from depression and other signs of psychological trauma. Every human trafficking case is different, and circumstances may impact the variety of red flags. Most importantly, by being aware and recognizing these indicators, more victims may be identified and receive proper help.
It is incumbent upon all of us to step up to reduce the negative impact of human trafficking. CHI is dedicated to furthering forensic science and in particular, developing the full potential of forensic DNA and related databases to improve the quality of life6.
How can you help? Become aware of the signs of trafficking. Recognize and help victims. You can visit the US Department of State website to understand how to identify and assist a victim, which might be right in your own neighborhood.
3. “Human Trafficking by the Numbers.” Human Rights First. Accessed July 31, 2019. https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/human-trafficking-numbers.
5. Busch-Armendariz, N.B., Nale, N.L., Kammer-Kerwick, M., Kellison, B., Torres, M.I.M., Cook Heffron, L., Nehme, J. (2016). Human Trafficking by the Numbers: The Initial Benchmark of Prevalence and Economic Impact for Texas. Austin, TX: Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault, The University of Texas at Austin.
6. Magdalena M. Buś, Tim Schellberg, Bruce Budowle. Human Trafficking – Multinational Challenge for Forensic Science. Forensic Science International: Genetics Supplement Series, 2019, in press.
For Research Forensic or Paternity Use Only. Not for use in diagnostic procedures.