FACT CHECK: Is Human Trafficking Worse Than It’s Ever Been ‘In The History Of The World’?

Kush Desai | Fact Check Reporter

President Donald Trump said human trafficking is worse “than it’s ever been in the history of the world” in a speech to law enforcement officials Friday, drawing a swift backlash from some who denounced the claim as false.

Verdict: Unsubstantiated

Statistics from government agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs) back Trump’s claim to a certain extent. Some studies say that global human trafficking is, in nominal terms, at a historic high point, including compared to the Atlantic slave trade. Due to a lack of data, it is difficult to ascertain if human trafficking is at its worst point “in the history of the world.”

Fact Check:

The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) estimates that there are more than 21 million victims of human trafficking worldwide as part of a $32 billion industry. Five and a half million of these 21 million victims of human trafficking are children, according to UNICEF estimates.

The State Department estimated in 2004 that there are between 600,000 and 800,000 people trafficked across an international border each year. Of these trafficked people, the State Department estimated that 70 percent are female and 50 percent are minors.

The Polaris Project, a human trafficking-focused NGO, estimates that the issue of human trafficking in the U.S. is getting worse. From 2015 to 2016, reported human trafficking cases jumped by 35 percent; reports of labor trafficking, in particular, jumped by 47 percent from 2015 to 2016. (Polaris underscored that these spikes may be due to more robust reporting of trafficking cases than more actual incidents of trafficking.)

In comparison to the Atlantic slave trade – one of the largest human trafficking periods – the United Nations estimates that there were around 15 million men, women and children trafficked from Africa as part of the Atlantic slave trade. The figure moreover represents the total number of trafficked slaves over a nearly four century long period.

Statistics on contemporary and historical human trafficking, however, are contested. Experts have raised questions about the accuracy of statistical estimates of the number of human trafficking victims due to a lack of empirical data. Historians have similarly questioned statistics about the number of victims of the Atlantic slave trade, as most statistics do not include the high mortality rates of brutal slave ships. The total number of human trafficking during this time, including the Atlantic and other trade slave operations, is likely to be more than the 15 million number cited by the U.N.

This is on top of the fact that human population has increased nearly sevenfold from less than a billion people in 1800 – a rough approximation of the tail end of the Atlantic slave trade – to more than seven billion people today. In this context, the Atlantic slave trade was proportionally worse than contemporary human trafficking.

Due to these layers of historical and demographic context, TheDCNF rates Trump’s claim as unsubstantiated.

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Kush Desai

Fact Check Reporter