Human trafficking is the crime of using force or deception to exploit victims for services and profit, most commonly involving coerced labor or sexual acts. It includes harboring victims, recruiting them, transporting, or receiving them. Human trafficking comes in many forms, such as debt bondage, domestic servitude, forced begging, organ harvesting, sex trafficking, and labor trafficking. Victims and perpetrators can be anyone, coercion can be obvious or subtle, and human trafficking is a problem in both the United States and throughout the world. How common is human trafficking in the United States?
Anyone can become a victim of human trafficking. Human trafficking does not discriminate. Men, women, and children of all ages and backgrounds have been victims. Human traffickers claim victims regardless of their socioeconomic status, education, race, nationality, citizenship, or any other factor. Traffickers do, however, tend to seek out people that they deem more vulnerable. They are more likely to compel or entice people who are desperate due to their situation or finances, people with disabilities, people with poor education, and people who are homeless.
Traffickers come from a wide array of backgrounds and unexpected places. They can be owners of businesses, companies, or farms. An employer who threatens to report an employee’s illegal immigration status unless they work for free is an example of workplace-related human trafficking.
Traffickers use a variety of tactics when claiming victims. Not all of them are overt; some are more subtle and less likely to arouse suspicion by the target or onlookers. Types of coercion traffickers use to recruit or compel victims include:
Human trafficking takes many forms and is pervasive throughout multiple industries. Sex trafficking and labor trafficking are the most common. Trafficking includes:
Sex Trafficking – This involves coercing or deceiving victims to engage in the commercial sex industry. If the victim is under 18 years old, a crime is committed even if the perpetrator did not use force or other illicit recruiting tactics and even if the child consented.
Labor Trafficking. Victims may be forced to work in harsh conditions without pay. Labor trafficking can consist of an entire factory or warehouse of forced employees, or it may entail an employer exploiting a single employee in an otherwise legitimate business. As in sex trafficking, children are also victims of labor trafficking.
Domestic Servitude. This is a form of labor trafficking and occurs behind closed doors in private homes, often involving a single individual being indentured to a household.Debt Bondage. This is a form of labor trafficking, wherein a person pledges to work to pay off a debt. Traffickers trick these workers by creating their debt in the first place or paying them so little that the debt will never be repaid
There are no easy telltale signs that someone is a trafficker. Traffickers come from all backgrounds and may act with criminal organizations, act alone, or even be someone the victim knows. Be mindful of tactics that manipulate a person into becoming overly reliant on the person using them, such as:
Victims cannot always seek help themselves. It is important that the public understand signs that a person could be a human trafficking victim so authorities can intervene. Physical and emotional abuse can show. Examples of some of the more visible signs are:
Be careful who you trust. Traffickers can be someone the victim knows – an employer, a parent, or a romantic partner. These tips can help you protect yourself.
Be cautious online. Traffickers are learning to adapt their recruitment methods to be effective online. Traffickers may message a person on social media and garner their trust, use phishing links (the fraudulent practice of sending emails purporting to be from reputable companies to induce individuals to reveal personal information) or viruses to learn a person’s geolocational information, or post fake job advertisements. Be careful when talking to a stranger online, especially if they ask to meet in person. Do not click on suspicious links or respond to spam text messages to avoid unintentionally sharing your personal information. Research jobs before providing your information on an application. Be mindful that jobs that sound too good to be true sometimes are.
Ask for help. If you believe you are being manipulated or exploited, seek help. Authorities and peers can help you notice warning signs you may have missed, and they can remove you from an abusive situation. Of course, call 911 in emergencies. Friends and family were the number one source of assistance for trafficking victims from 2018 to 2020, according to Polaris. In 2020, 40% of identified victims confided in friends and family for help. More formal resources, such as police and the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH), are also available.
Visit the Blue Campaign website for more information on how to protect yourself and get help.
The Peonage, Slavery, and Trafficking in Persons act.
The primary federal law concerning trafficking is the Peonage, Slavery, and Trafficking in Persons. Violations under this law are sometimes referred to as “Chapter 77 offenses.” The statute’s provisions define and address various types of trafficking, all of which involve exploitation.
See the law for more information.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act is a U.S. federal law designed to combat human trafficking and rehabilitate victims. It defines multiple types of trafficking: commercial sex acts, debt bondage, involuntary servitude, slavery, and peonage. Each of these involve exploiting a victim to benefit from them, most commonly from their labor or sexual acts. See the law for more information.
Most formal protections the TVPA introduces are aimed at helping immigrant or foreign victims who were trafficked in the U.S. or transported to the U.S. due to trafficking. These include nonimmigrant statuses that allow undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. and work, at least temporarily. The T Visa and Continued Presence are the primary options.
The TVPA authorizes the U.S. Government to strengthen efforts to prosecute traffickers including:
See the law for more information.
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (JVTA)
The JVTA uses fines paid by trafficking offenders to provide restitution to victims. Specifically, the Act allows people who buy sexual services from traffickers to be prosecuted as traffickers themselves. Child pornography producers are also considered human traffickers. See the law for more information.
The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014
The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014’s title accurately describes its purpose. The Act modified child welfare laws to provide more extensive protections to children who are victims of or at risk of sex trafficking. It required states to incorporate policies into foster care and adoption assistance to identify and document a child’s potential experience with sex trafficking. The Act also imposed reporting requirements, including mandated reporting of children in foster care who were victims of sex trafficking and of runaway foster children.
The Mann Act of 1910
The Mann Act was amended multiple times and today makes it a felony to transport a person across state lines with the intent to have them engage in prostitution or any criminal sexual activity. See the law for more information.
Resources are available to report suspected human trafficking. Do not hesitate to call 911 in emergency situations. For non-emergent reports, call the Trafficking Hotline or contact one of the other options below.
The National Trafficking Victim Assistance Program (TVAP) helps victims with case management and offers services such as foster care and financial assistance.
Homeless children or children who run from home are vulnerable on their own and susceptible to traffickers. Two resources dedicated to helping these children are the Runaway and Homeless Youth Training and Technical Assistance Center (RHYTTAC) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).
Immigrant victims and their families can apply for a Temporary Visa, or T Visa, to stay in the U.S. for up to four years. With this nonimmigrant status, the victim can access federal and state programs and become authorized to work in the U.S. with an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Qualifying T nonimmigrants can apply for a Green Card to become a legal permanent resident in the U.S.
Continued Presence (CP) is another type of nonimmigrant status. This allows certain trafficking victims to stay in the U.S. for one year and seek an EAD to legally work in the country. This is only available to victims of extreme trafficking situations who may be a witness to offer information for an investigation into or prosecution of traffickers.
The United Nations’ Trafficking Protocol is relevant to human trafficking victims outside of the U.S. or who are U.S. citizens who were transported to another country.
Violations of the law can result in fines and/or imprisonment for the offenders. Many of the statute’s provisions are punishable by fines and up to 20 years imprisonment. The guidelines are the same for offenders who interfere with enforcement of these laws. The punishment can extend up to a life sentence if the committing the given offense also involved attempted or successful kidnapping, sexual abuse, or killing of the victim. The following actions are all subject to these same punishments.
Depending on the offender’s involvement, child sex trafficking is punishable by fines and imprisonment ranging from 10 years to life. Other provisions vary from one another, but many impose fines and imprisonment. For example, obstructing investigations of or destroying a person’s immigration documents is punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment, and voluntarily working on a ship used for slave trade is limited to two years.
Trafficking victims may file a lawsuit against their offenders in an appropriate court. Civil remedies vary by court. However, victims are at least entitled to restitution. Courts are required to order restitution for victims in addition to any civil or criminal penalties. This means the court must order the trafficker to compensate the victim for any financial losses they suffered due to being trafficked. This includes lost wages from being unable to work and the value of any property the victim forfeited while trafficked.
Lawsuits must be filed within the statute of limitations. Victims can file suit within 10 years of the crime or, if the victim was a minor when trafficked, within 10 years of turning 18 years old. In certain cases, a state’s attorney general may file a civil suit on behalf of the state’s residents against anyone who engages in child sex trafficking in violation of the law. The state attorney general may do so if they reasonably believe the offender threatens or negatively affects the state’s residents.
See the law for more information.
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