British model allegedly kidnapped for sex
The strange tale of Chloe Ayling’s kidnapping (and subsequent release) in Italy has shone a spotlight on the murky world of human trafficking. How can this global problem be stopped?
“I’ve been through a terrifying experience,” Chloe Ayling told reporters outside her mother’s home on Sunday. “I feared for my life second by second.”
The experience began on July 11th, when Ayling landed in Milan. The 20-year-old glamour model had gone to Italy for what she thought was a photo shoot. At the designated venue, however, she was drugged and kidnapped.
Ayling says she was taken to a house, handcuffed to furniture and told that she would be sold to the Middle East “for sex”. But six days later, allegedly after her captors realised that she had a two-year-old child, she was delivered to the British consulate in Milan. The man who accompanied her, Polish national Lukasz Herba, was arrested on the spot.
This unusual case has captured the world’s attention. Since Ayling’s identity was made public on Sunday, inconsistencies in the story have emerged. For example, journalists are asking why she was spotted shoe shopping with Herba. Doubts aside, the kidnapping has shone a spotlight on the ongoing issue of human trafficking.
Many in the West think of slavery as a thing of the past. Yet it is still prevalent across the world, often in the form of human trafficking. This is when someone is forced or deceived into performing some kind of labour for someone else’s profit. They may be transported across borders, but not always. The value of the industry has been estimated at $32 billion per year.
Sex trafficking, mostly involving women and children, accounts for a large proportion of the trade. People from poor regions, who have few employment prospects at home, are particularly vulnerable. As Ayling’s case reminds us, however, trafficking affects all countries.
In the USA, the number of reported cases is steadily rising. Only last month, nine trafficked migrants died after being left in a trailer in San Antonio. The Trump administration has made a priority of tackling the issue; in February, the president issued an executive order aimed at ending the trade.
Tricks of the trade
“It’s time our leaders got serious about this,” say some. Several countries do not even have anti-trafficking laws; in those that do, corruption and incompetence allow the trade to continue anyway. Governments must create more thorough border checks, crack down on websites where traffickers ply their trade, and punish offenders very harshly.
“Public awareness is just as crucial,” reply others. One of the difficulties of tackling trafficking (and of measuring its scale) is that it operates in secret. But there are signs. If we learn to spot potential victims of sex trafficking, or find out which sectors tend to employ victims of trafficking, we can all help fight the practice.
- Do you think you have ever witnessed a case of human trafficking? (Read the State Department’s page in Become An Expert for help.)
- Was Ayling wrong to turn up to the “photo shoot” on her own?
- Imagine you are interviewing Ayling today. Prepare five questions to ask her.
- In groups, come up with a plan for an event at your school to raise awareness of human trafficking.
Some People Say...
“Death is better than slavery.”— Harriet Ann Jacobs
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Investigators seem confident that Ayling was drugged with ketamine and taken to a remote farmhouse by at least two men. Her captors claimed to be part of the shady Black Death Group, which allegedly sells sex slaves on the dark web. They also asked Ayling’s agent for a ransom of $350,000 (later dropped to $65,000). One of them, Lukasz Herba, was arrested at the British consulate and confessed to the kidnapping.
- What do we not know?
- Many aspects of the story, from Ayling’s shopping trip with Herba to her sudden release, are puzzling. Ayling’s lawyer said that she was forced to accompany her captor to the shops. Herba told Italian police that he had meant to sell Ayling to pay for his cancer treatment, but had a change of heart. It is too early to know the exact truth.
- Lukasz Herba
- Herba is based in the UK. Ayling says that they had met before, at a cancelled photo shoot in Paris.
- Across borders
- When someone voluntarily asks someone else to help them enter a country illegally, the act is called “smuggling”. It can overlap with trafficking: smugglers sometimes exploit their customers, eg, by forcing them to perform cheap labour.
- $32 billion per year
- According to the International Labour Organisation in 2005.
- Steadily rising
- The number of cases reported by the National Human Trafficking Hotline has climbed every year since counting began in 2012. It reached 7,621 in 2016.
- Executive order
- The order called for a tougher approach to “transnational criminal organisations” in general (thus also covering drug cartels, cybercrime groups, etc).
- The Senate is considering a bill that would make it much harder for websites to assist sex trafficking, eg, by hosting ads for trafficked prostitutes. Some lawyers and tech companies oppose the law, arguing that it would give the government too much power to police online content and infringe on free speech.