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From Hidden Crime to Public Controversy: Famous Human Trafficking Cases

Human trafficking hides in the shadows. Traffickers prey on the vulnerable and the voiceless.

However, a few famous human trafficking cases have sparked controversy and brought the public’s attention to this global problem. Learn about a few of the most famous human trafficking cases and how you can get involved in combatting this urgent issue.

NXIVM: The High-Profile Human Trafficking Case Against Keith Raniere

At face value, New York-based NXIVM offered “Executive Success Programs,” helping aspiring leaders with personal and professional development. It attracted high-profile individuals such as Smallville actress Allison Mack and Seagram heiress Clare Bronfman.

However, beginning in the 2000s, the group faced accusations of cult-like behavior. The controversy became known to the wider public in 2017 when the news magazine 20/20 aired an exposé on the group. It was also featured on the first season of the CBC podcast Uncover. Various media alleged that NXIVM used brainwashing and classic control techniques to coerce its members into sexual activity with its founder.

In 2018, NXIVM founder Keith Raniere was arrested on charges including sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, and conspiracy to commit forced labor. Smallville actress Allison Mack was arrested on similar charges, accused of coercing women into sexual activity with Raniere. In 2019, Raniere was convicted of sex trafficking and sentenced to 120 years of prison. Mack was convicted of racketeering and sentenced to three years in prison.

R. Kelly: The Superstar Guilty of Sex Trafficking

R. Kelly, an award-winning R&B artist, faced accusations of abuse and exploitation of young people and children for two decades before finally being convicted. Kelly was accused of using his fame to prey on girls, grooming them for sex. In 2021, he was convicted on eight counts of violating the Mann Act, the first international law prohibiting human trafficking, which bans the transportation of people across borders for “any immoral purpose.”

As Polaris Project puts it, “What R&B singer R. Kelly had to offer was more glamorous on the outside, and certainly less common, but the elements of trafficking were the same. He preyed on young people’s dreams… What he got in exchange was sex, obedience, subservience, whatever he wanted, from people he defrauded, manipulated and traumatized.”

Significant public controversy surrounds why it took so long for R. Kelly to be convicted. As the New Yorker headline read on Sept 27, 2021: “R. Kelly Is Found Guilty on All Counts, Twenty-five Years Too Late.” For decades the star was able to use his resources and influence to sexually abuse an unknown number of victims, many of whom were girls of color. It wasn’t until a 2019 docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly” that a federal investigation eventually led to his conviction, 25 years after the first criminal charges were brought against him.

Jeffrey Epstein & Ghislaine Maxwell: Providing Girls for Abuse to the Rich and Famous

Jeffrey Epstein was an American financier whose social life included famous politicians and celebrities, including Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, and Prince Andrew, Duke of York. Accused of running a network of underage girls for sex for himself and others, Epstein was arrested in 2019 on charges of sex trafficking of minors.

However, Epstein died by apparent suicide in his jail cell later that same year, and all charges against him were dropped, spawning significant controversy and allegations of conspiracy. In 2021, his long-time partner Ghislaine Maxwell was convicted of sex trafficking for procuring girls for Epstein and his associates to abuse. She will face sentencing in 2022.

Get Educated on What Human Trafficking Looks Like

While these are some of the most famous human trafficking cases, most human trafficking takes place well under the radar, and it can look a lot of different ways. Traffickers target people with the least status, voice, and wealth. Though sometimes trafficking may involve famous financiers or decorated musicians, most of the time it involves people like refugees and runaways, migrants and the homeless.

If you’d like to understand the issue of human trafficking more fully, along with learning how you can get involved in stopping this crime against the most vulnerable, you can take TraffickWatch Academy. This free training includes two 20-minute courses, in which you’ll learn about human trafficking in the United States and globally.

Join the TraffickWatch Community and Access the Course

Provide your email below, and we’ll email you access to the course. We’ll also occasionally email you educational resources and ways to get involved in fighting human trafficking.

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