What is human trafficking?
Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons, is a crime that involves the exploitation of a person for the purpose of compelled sex or labor. There are two forms of human trafficking, sex trafficking, in which “a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age,” and labor trafficking, “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.”
Who is trafficked?
There is no single profile of a trafficking victim. Victims of human trafficking can be anyone—regardless of race, color, national origin, disability, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, education level, or citizenship status.
Any person under the age of 18 who is engaged in commercial sex acts, regardless of the use of force, fraud, or coercion, is a victim of human trafficking, even if they appear to consent to the commercial sex act.
Although there is no defining characteristic that all human trafficking victims share, traffickers frequently prey on individuals who are poor, vulnerable, living in an unsafe situation, or are in search of a better life.
Who is most vulnerable to trafficking?
In the United States, some of the most vulnerable populations include black girls, American Indian/Alaska Native communities, lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-questioning individuals, individuals with disabilities, undocumented immigrants, runaway and homeless youth, and low-income individuals. These victims are deceived by false promises of love, a good job, or a stable life and are lured or forced into situations where they are made to work under deplorable conditions with little or no pay.
Who are perpetrators of trafficking?
Just as there is no one type of trafficking victim, perpetrators of this crime also vary. Traffickers can be foreign nationals or U.S. citizens, family members, partners, acquaintances, and even strangers.
People often incorrectly assume that all traffickers are males; however, multiple cases in the United States have revealed that women can also be traffickers. Traffickers can be pimps, gang members, diplomats, business owners, labor brokers, and farm, factory, and company owners.
Where can victims of trafficking be found?
Victims can be found in legal and illegal labor industries, including child care, elder care, the drug trade, massage parlors, hair salons, restaurants, hotels, factories, and farms. In some cases, victims are hidden behind doors in domestic servitude in a home. Others are in plain view, interact with people on a daily basis, and are forced to work under extreme circumstances in exotic dance clubs, construction, health and beauty services, or restaurants. These conditions exist across the United States.
Research on Labor Trafficking
OVC has partnered with the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to fund research on human trafficking. Under its Research and Evaluation on Trafficking in Persons program, NIJ is working to better understand, prevent, and respond to trafficking in the U.S., focusing on projects that have clear implications for criminal justice policy and practice.
Human trafficking has often been called an invisible crime, and one of the major research priorities is to better understand how it operates in the U.S. NIJ’s article, “Understanding and Characterizing Labor Trafficking Among U.S. Citizen Victims,” addresses a research gap on how U.S. citizens (rather than foreign nationals) experience labor trafficking.
While it is notoriously difficult to identify labor trafficking cases, “Understanding What Works in the Successful Identification, Investigation, and Prosecution of Labor Trafficking Cases in the United States” is taking lessons learned from five U.S. counties that have been able to effectively address labor trafficking crimes in their communities.
There are also lessons to be learned by studying locations that have high incident rates of labor trafficking. “Understanding the Trafficking of Children for the Purpose of Labor in the United States” is collecting data from four U.S. sites where multiple child labor trafficking cases have occurred, looking at who the perpetrators are and how they operate, and the challenges to victim identification and response.
We need to close gaps in our knowledge about how trafficking survivors participate in and relate to the criminal justice system. “Bending Towards Justice: Perceptions of Justice among Human Trafficking Survivors” takes a step in that direction; it found that survivors often focused more on preventing what happened to them from happening to others than punishing the offenders.
MYTH: Traffickers target victims they don’t know
FACT: A majority of the time, victims are trafficked by someone they know, such as a friend, family member or romantic partner.
MYTH: Only girls and women are victims of human trafficking
FACT: Boys and men are just as likely to be victims of human trafficking as girls and women. However, they are less likely to be identified and reported. Girls and boys are often subject to different types of trafficking, for instance, girls may be trafficked for forced marriage and sexual exploitation, while boys may be trafficked for forced labor or recruitment into armed groups.
MYTH: All human trafficking involves sex or prostitution
FACT: Human trafficking can include forced labor, domestic servitude, organ trafficking, debt bondage, recruitment of children as child soldiers, and/or sex trafficking and forced prostitution.
MYTH: Trafficking involves traveling, transporting or moving a person across borders
FACT: Human trafficking is not the same thing as smuggling, which are two terms that are commonly confused. Trafficking does not require movement across borders. In fact, in some cases, a child could be trafficked and exploited from their own home. In the U.S., trafficking most frequently occurs at hotels, motels, truck stops and online.
MYTH: People being trafficked are physically unable to leave or held against their will
FACT: Trafficking can involve force, but people can also be trafficked through threats, coercion, or deception. People in trafficking situations can be controlled through drug addiction, violent relationships, manipulation, lack of financial independence, or isolation from family or friends, in addition to physical restraint or harm.
MYTH: Trafficking primarily occurs in developing countries
FACT: Trafficking occurs all over the world, though the most common forms of trafficking can differ by country. The United States is one of the most active sex trafficking countries in the world, where exploitation of trafficking victims occurs in cities, suburban and rural areas. Labor trafficking occurs in the U.S., but at lower rates than most developing countries.
If you suspect someone is a victim of trafficking, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-800-373-7888. The confidential hotline is open 24 hours a day, every day, and helps identify, protect and serve victims of trafficking.
Sources:[i] Give Her a Choice: Building A Better Future For Girls (Save the Children) [ii] United Nations Office on Drug and Crime [iii] Men and Boys and Human Trafficking