The first scene in "Trade," a 2007 movie starring Academy Award winner Kevin Kline, takes place in Mexico City, Mexico. The country's capital, with almost 9 million inhabitants, is also the home for 13-year-old Adriana, whose brother surprises her with a pink bike on her birthday. Adriana, tickled by her new toy, takes it for a ride on a sunny afternoon -- only to be followed, chased and caught by two men -- human traffickers who have goals to sell her for sexual service.
"Those movies (about trafficking) are pretty true depictions of what trafficking is, what actually happens, how it works... and it's not exaggerated," said Elisa Morales, who works for Vera House in DeWitt. "If anything, it's under exaggerated."
Human trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, harboring or receipt of people for the purpose of slavery, forced labor (including bonded labor or debt bondage) and servitude, as defined on wikipedia.com. Victims are typically recruited through coercion, deception, fraud, the abuse of power or abduction. Threats, violence and economic leverage can often make a victim consent to exploitation.
"Traffickers are 100 percent their word," Morales said. "If they say they're gonna hurt your family back home, they'll do it. It's just that simple."
Last year in the US, up to 17,000 people were trafficked into this country, Morales said. About 80 percent were women and children. A lucrative business, the crime yields at least $9 billion each year in the US.
"It's extremely profitable [and] has exceeded the weapons trafficking in the world," Morales said. "It's very close to exceeding the drug trafficking in the world."
Last month, the Southwest Community Center in Syracuse hosted a skit and panel discussion that focused on modern-day forms of slavery. The event, which involved advocates from groups such as the Farm Worker Legal Services and the International Victim Program (a collaborative project between Hiscock Legal Aid and Vera House), coincided with National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.