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June 26, 2014

International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking

By Sophie Kasakove

Today marks the 16th annual International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Established by the United Nations General Assembly, this day serves as a reminder of the global goal of creating an international society free of drug abuse.

Though the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking and the International Day against Sexual Exploitation and Human Trafficking (September 23rd) are observed months apart, these issues are deeply intertwined. The 2014 Trafficking in Persons report—released last week by the State Department— gives countless examples of the overlap between the international traffic in drugs, arms, and people. In many cases, women who are exploited for sex are also forced to engage in the production, sale, or smuggling of illicit drugs. This process can also work in reverse: women who work as drug mules are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation in source, destination, and transport countries.

The overlap has only increased with the expansion of human trafficking operations among cartels and gangs. As drug smuggling becomes riskier, cartels are branching out into human trafficking to make up lost revenues. Many organized crime groups prefer human trafficking because women can be sold multiple times, while drugs and arms can be sold only once. Additionally, drug and arms trafficking is riskier for the trafficker; in human trafficking cases, the victims are more often the targets of prosecution.

The link between human and other forms of trafficking exists all over the world but tends to be ignored by law enforcement officials. Law enforcement officials should recognize the links between these crimes and take advantage of them to more effectively prosecute people involved in all forms of trafficking. First, state and local governments should investigate human trafficking connections among criminal gangs charged with drug and weapons smuggling. Additionally, drug and arms task forces and human trafficking task forces should coordinate and plan joint prosecutions. Finally, efforts to track the routes of drug and arms trafficking should expand to trace human trafficking occurring along these same routes.