Many people have the misconception that slavery ended after the Civil War. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

Slavery is very much still in existence — in fact, it is believed that 40 million people are slaves in the world today. Human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world, just behind illegal drugs.

The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime defines human trafficking as:

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The act of recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

The two main forms of slavery or human trafficking are forced labor and prostitution. Both occur in the United States, as well as around the world. Traffickers prey on the vulnerable: runaway teenagers, immigrants and those with little or no support networks.

Once manipulated or forced into human trafficking, these victims cannot escape. They are closely guarded and their captors threaten them and their families with physical harm.

How do these traffickers find their victims?

In labor trafficking, people are lured by promises of high-paying jobs or educational and travel opportunities. Once they arrive, captors take away their passports and force them to work long hours under grueling conditions for little or no pay.

In sex trafficking overseas, young women answer ads for jobs like nannies or models in a foreign country. Once they arrive, their passports are taken and they are forced into prostitution to stay alive.

In the United States, teenagers run away from home. Strangers pretend to care about them and promise to help them. Once these so-called “caring” strangers have the runaways under control, they force them to become prostitutes, while these strangers keep all of the money. Often, they threaten to kill the teenager’s family if they even think about running away. These youngsters are trapped with no freedom and nowhere to turn.

Recent examples include the following:

  • In San Antonio, Texas, 10 people were found dead in a truck in a human trafficking case. They died inside a tractor trailer that was over 100 degrees inside. James Matthew Bradley Jr., the driver of the truck, was arrested.
  • In Belgium, eight princesses from the United Arab Emirates were arrested for inhumane treatment of servants. The servants were forced to work night and day, often without food, and with no beds to sleep in. Their passports were confiscated.
  • A 16-year-old girl escaped from a house in Crown Heights in Brooklyn, where two adults forced her and another teen into prostitution. Denina Roman, 21, and Taymel Harris, 20, were arrested and charged with sex trafficking, sexual misconduct, acting in a manner injurious to a child less than 17, unlawful imprisonment and promoting prostitution.

More real-life examples and also tips on what you can do to help prevent human trafficking can be found on websites such as these:

Together, we can fight and prevent human trafficking. It could happen to anyone anywhere. Rich or poor, in the cities or in the suburbs.

Idelle Kursman is the author of the novel, "True Mercy," a thriller about human trafficking that takes place in Morristown. Visit her website by clicking here.