By Meredith Shea


On January 16th, University of Pennsylvania students across majors and nationalities gathered to listen to Dr. Richard Estes, a professor of social work, speak about human trafficking, specifically the trafficking of children for sexual purposes. Seneca International sponsored this lunchtime discussion. Every seat was filled in the Fox Leadership classroom as Dr. Estes began by defining trafficking and summarizing the current US laws enacted to address this issue of modern day slavery. As one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world, this multi-billion dollar industry (taking place within and across US borders) is difficult to stop. Dr. Estes states that about 70% of child victims enter the country legally. Each is recruited into the trafficking circuit through varying motivations, including poverty, social chaos at home, hope of family reunification, or a search for improved opportunities. While the number of children trafficked into the US vary from region to region, with large numbers from Mexico, Central, and South America, the exact numbers are largely unknown.

Dr. Estes continued to explain 10 categories of trafficking functionaries, dividing those involved in trafficking into two sections of direct contact and no direct contact, which demonstrated the amount of people and planning required for this caliber of illegal market. While some were more obvious than others, such as recruiters and transporters, others were more surprising, such as supporting personnel taxi drivers, investors, and corrupt public officials.

While many of us may think that trafficking is some kind of hidden practice, it is more open than many of us may realize. For example, in 2010 nearly 20 girls were liberated from slavery in a hair braiding salon in Newark, New Jersey after about 10 years of servitude and sexual abuse[1]. Originally sent to the United States by their parents in hope of a better life and education, the girls were enslaved by their traffickers, working 14 hour days, seven days a week for no pay.[2] While not all cases are this obvious, human trafficking continues to thrive as a black market business within the US borders and across the world.

More information on Dr. Estes’ report can be found at


Meredith Shea is a senior at Penn, majoring in International Relations and minoring in Creative Writing. She is currently writing her thesis on the relationship between human rights and democratization in Latin America. 

[1] The Root. December 5, 2010. “African Girls Held as Slaves in New Jersey.”

[2] Ibid.

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