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Carolyn Noble, PhD

Welcome to Social Dialogue Issue 20

Social work is most often charged with dealing with the world’s social problems as unchecked Global capital engages in its endless search for more profits leaving a trail of human and economic disasters behind. One pressing disaster is the international slave trade; a growing problem of increasing ‘epidemic proportions’ which is emerging on social works’ ‘must attend too’ list. Over the last decade trafficking in human beings has become transnational and fluid in character where no country is exempt (Hodge & Lietz, 2007; www.antislavery.com). Human trafficking is a process of enslaving people (often against their will or by deception) and coercing them into a situation with no way out and exploiting them as much as humanly possible without any regard for their wellbeing or basic humanity.

Human trafficking is part of the shadow economy, involving women and young girls and men and young boys. They are trafficked for sexual services, for child marriages and domestic slavery, for forced criminality such as running drugs and contraband, for begging and organ removals, for supply chain work and cheap exploited labour leading to a lifetime of abuse and appalling treatment and living conditions. Of those trafficked internationally 70% of women and 50% of children are purely for sexual exploitation (Quirk, 2011; Hodge & Liez, 2007). Understanding this phenomenon requires knowledge of the push/pull factors as well as geo-political, military, social and economic global relations. It is an indictment on us (or anyone) that such activity occurs yet alone seems to be on the increase.

Escaping slavery is an enormous challenge as is identifying it especially in the industrial world where such practices would seem to have been overcome with antislavery activism and national and international laws designed to prevent and protect. This leaves social work with several issues. First is how to identify the practice and the victims and perpetrators involved, second, how to tackle it and third, how to respond to the human toll it creates, physically, mentally, socially and economically and finally how to reintegrate those trafficked back into society and family after their experiences/ordeal.

All the articles in this edition acknowledge that social work has paid little attention to this issue either nationally and internationally despite the growing number of exposed cases and instances of abuse and explosion in the press and social media outlets. This collection from across the globe is part of social work’s awakening to such practices and hopefully will also be part of seeking solutions for helping people trapped in appalling conditions for which, now there is little hope of escape. For those who do manage to escape social work can play an important role in helping to end these practices and assist survivors by a multilevel approach that includes activism, policy changes, community interventions (such as education, awareness campaigns and drawing attention to the push/pull factors) and direct practice dealing with the trauma, and physical, family and psychological effects. Once again a big thank you to all the contributors!


Hodge, D.R & Lietz, C.A (2007). The International Sexual Trafficking of Women and Children: A Literature Review. Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work, 22(2). 163-174. What is Human Trafficking? www.antislavery.com