The Impact of
Covid-19 on Human Trafficking

– By Mitzi Perdue

Last year, before COVID-19, the United Nation’s International Labour Organization estimated that there were more than 40 million people held in slavery throughout the world.

Some might wonder, did the Pandemic with its lockdowns push those numbers downward?  After all, wouldn’t social distancing and fear of disease keep people from engaging in human trafficking?

Ben Cooley and Dru Collie from one of the world’s largest anti-human-trafficking organizations, Hope for Justice, know the tragic answer. “No!” The Pandemic has resulted in at least four factors that dictate an increase in trafficking.

“The number one driver of human trafficking is vulnerability. With COVID-19, as many as a billion people are more vulnerable now than they were before,” says Collie.

More People Are More Vulnerable 

Here are some of the COVID-19-caused vulnerabilities

1. Lockdown-caused Vulnerability:  Being cut loose from normal social interactions means even more stress on families.  “The economic impact has been massive,” points out Cooley. “The United Nations estimates that a billion people have lost their jobs.”

2. Decreased Governmental Resources for Combatting Human Trafficking: “Because of  COVID-19, governments have had to shut down departments that would normally be combatting human trafficking,” says Cooley.  “This could mean setting back anti-trafficking efforts by as much as a decade.”

3. Impact on Charitable Giving: “By some estimates there’s likely to be a 40% drop in charitable giving,” Cooley adds. “Organizations combatting human trafficking have fewer resources available to help.”

4. Impact on Food Security: “We may be seeing massive hunger. In many countries, there are farmers who haven’t been able to harvest their crops or plant new ones,” Cooley says.  “As many as 12,000 people per day could die from hunger linked to COVID-19.”

“We’ve never seen more vulnerability or more need,” Cooley sums up.

As journalists, how do we help our readers recognize the increasing likelihood that they may come across someone being trafficked?

For a start, keep in mind that trafficking victims may be unwilling to talk about their situation. Often, they’ve been lured into another country by false promises and so may not easily trust others.

Collie and his colleagues say trafficking victims may:

  • Be fearful of police and other authorities

  • Be fearful of the trafficker, believing their lives or family members’ lives are at risk if they escape

  • Exhibit signs of physical and psychological trauma such as anxiety, lack of memory of recent events, bruising, untreated conditions

  • Be unaware they have been trafficked and believe they are simply in a bad job

  • Have limited freedom of movement

  • Be unpaid or paid very little

  • Have limited access to medical care

  • Seem to be in debt to someone

  • Have no passport or mention that someone else is holding their passport

  • Be regularly moved to avoid detection

  • Believe they are being controlled by the use of witchcraft

One or two or even three of the above indicators don’t necessarily indicate a person is being trafficked. However, if the signs do make you suspicious, report your information to local law enforcement.

Alternatively, do an internet search for your area on “How to report human trafficking in [name of country]”.

For a more extensive list of signs of trafficking, visit

About The Author

Mitzi Perdue is a businesswoman, author, and Founder of Win This Fight, Stop Human Trafficking Now. She holds a B.A. degree with honors from Harvard University and a Master's from George Washington University. She's a past president of the 40,000 member American Agri-Women, and she was a U.S. Delegate to the United Nations Conference on Women in Nairobi. She was also a Commissioner for the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science. Her Scripps Howard column, The Environment and You, was for years the most widely syndicated environmental column in the U.S.

She is the founder and president of “Win This Fight! Stop Human Trafficking Now,” an organization that raises funds and awareness for other anti-trafficking initiatives.