Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others. As defined under U.S. federal law, victims of human trafficking include children involved in the sex trade, adults age 18 or over who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into different forms of “labor or services,” such as domestic workers held in a home, or farm-workers forced to labor against their will. The factors that each of these situations have in common are elements of force, fraud, or coercion that are used to control people. Then, that control is tied to inducing someone into commercial sex acts, or labor or services. Every year, human traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits by victimizing millions of people around the world, and here in the United States. Human trafficking is considered to be one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world.
Common means of control include:
Force – Physical or sexual abuse, often in the form of repeated rapes by one or more people to create submission; confinement to a residence; restrictions on movement, and communication to family and friends.
Fraud – False promises of a better life through the trafficker presenting as a boyfriend or caretaker figure; convincing the victim that law enforcement/service providers will only see the victim as a “prostitute” and will arrest and not assist the victim.
Coercion – Threats of harm to the victim or victim’s family; threats to shame the victim by revealing the commercial sex to his or her family and others in the community; verbal, psychological and emotional abuse; nightly quotas; confiscation of birth certificates and other identification documents; forced dependency on the pimp or controller; exploitation of victims’ shame or low self-esteem; rumors of or witnessed violence at hands of traffickers; cycle of rewards and punishments; threats of deportation if victim is a foreign national.
Human trafficking affects every country around the world, regardless of socio-economic status, history, or political structure. Human traffickers have created an international market for the trade in human beings based on high profits and demand for commercial sex and cheap labor. Trafficking affects 161 countries worldwide.
An estimated 20.9 million men, women and children are trafficked for commercial sex or forced labor around the world today. Victims are trafficked both within and across international borders. Migrants as well as internally displaced persons are particularly vulnerable.
Sex Trafficking in the US
Sex trafficking occurs when people are forced or coerced into the commercial sex trade against their will. Child sex trafficking
includes any child involved in commercial sex. Sex traffickers frequently target vulnerable people with histories of abuse and then use violence, threats, lies, false promises, debt bondage, or other forms of control and manipulation to keep victims involved in the sex industry. Sex trafficking exists within the broader commercial sex trade, often at much larger rates than most people realize or understand. Sex trafficking has been found in a wide variety of venues of the overall sex industry, including residential brothels, hostess clubs, online escort services, fake massage businesses, strip clubs, and street prostitution.
Labor Trafficking in the US
Labor traffickers use violence, threats, lies, and other forms of coercion to force people to work against their will in many different industries. Common types of labor trafficking include people forced to work in homes as domestic servants, farmworkers coerced through violence as they harvest crops, or factory workers held in inhumane conditions with little to no pay. In the United States, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) defines labor trafficking as: “The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.”
Red Flags Present in Trafficked Individuals:
This list is not exhaustive or cumulative, not all flags are present in every situation.
Common Work and Living Conditions: The Individual(s) in Question
- Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
- Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
- Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
- Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
- Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
- Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
- Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
- Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
- High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)
Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior
- Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
- Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
- Avoids eye contact
Poor Physical Health
- Lacks health care
- Appears malnourished
- Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
Lack of Control
- Has few or no personal possessions
- Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
- Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
- Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)
- Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
- Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
- Loss of sense of time
- Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story
*Information on this page compiled from The Polaris Project