Human Trafficking FAQs

What is human trafficking?
Is human trafficking another term for smuggling?
Is human trafficking a crime that must involve some form of travel, transportation, or movement across state or national borders?
Does physical violence have to be involved in human trafficking cases?
Who are the victims?
Under the federal definition, are trafficking victims only foreign nationals or immigrants?
Do victims always come from a low-income or poor background?
Who is at risk of becoming a victim of human trafficking?
How many human trafficking victims are there in the United States?
Do victims of human trafficking self-identify as a victim of a crime and ask for help immediately?
What types of human trafficking can be found in the United States?
Does human trafficking only occur in illegal underground industries?
How is pimping a form of sex trafficking?
Are pimps managers who offer protection to women and girls in the sex industry and split the money earned through commercial sex acts?
How do I get a copy of the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report?
How do I order Rescue and Restore materials?


What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons (TIP), is a modern-day form of slavery.  It is a crime under federal and international law.  It is also a crime in the majority of U.S. states.  Click here for more information about human trafficking, and click here for more online resources.

Back to top.

Is human trafficking another word for smuggling?

No. There are many fundamental differences between the crimes of human trafficking and human smuggling. Both are entirely separate federal crimes in the U.S. Most notably, smuggling is a crime against a country’s borders, whereas human trafficking is a crime against a person. Also, while smuggling requires illegal border crossing, human trafficking involves commercial sex acts or labor or services that are induced through force, fraud, or coercion.  Unlike smuggling, human trafficking does not require transportation. Click here for more information about state and federal laws defining human trafficking, or click here for more resources.

Back to top.

Is human trafficking a crime that must involve some form of travel, transportation, or movement across state or national borders?

No. Although the word ‘trafficking’ sounds like movement, the federal definition of human trafficking in the U.S. does not require transportation. In other words, transportation may or may not be involved in the crime of human trafficking, and it is not a required component.  Click here for more information about state and federal laws defining human trafficking, or click here for more resources.

Back to top.

Does physical violence have to be involved in human trafficking cases?

No. Under federal law, an individual who uses physical or psychological violence to force someone into labor or services or into commercial sex acts is considered a human trafficker. Therefore, while some victims experience beatings, rape, and other forms of physical violence, many victims are controlled by traffickers through psychological means, such as threats of violence, manipulation, and lies. In many cases, traffickers use a combination of direct violence and mental abuse.  The federal definition of the crime, as defined in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, was created to address the wider spectrum of methods of control used by traffickers beyond "bodily harm."

Back to top.

Who are the victims?

There is not one consistent face of trafficking victim.  Trafficked persons in the United States can be men or women, adults or children, foreign nationals or US citizens.  Some are well-educated, while others have no formal education.

While anyone can become a victim of trafficking, certain populations are especially vulnerable.  These may include: undocumented migrants; runaway and homeless youth; and oppressed, marginalized, and/or impoverished groups and individuals.  Traffickers specifically target individuals in these populations because they are vulnerable to recruitment tactics and methods of control.

Undocumented immigrants in the US are highly vulnerable due to a combination of factors, including: lack of legal status and protections, language barriers, limited employment options, poverty and immigration-related debts, and social isolation.  They are often victimized by traffickers from a similar ethnic or national background, on whom they may be dependent for employment or a means of support. Click here for more resources.

Under the federal definition, are human trafficking victims only foreign nationals or immigrants?

No. The federal definition of human trafficking includes both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals – both are protected under the federal trafficking law and have been since the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. Human trafficking encompasses both transnational trafficking that crosses borders and domestic or internal trafficking that occurs within a country. Statistics about trafficking, estimates of the scope of trafficking, and descriptions of trafficking should be mindful to include both transnational and internal trafficking to be most accurate.

Back to top.

Do victims always come from a low-income or poor background?

No. Human trafficking victims can come from a range of backgrounds and some may come from middle and upper class families. Poverty is one of many factors that make individuals vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.

Back to top.

Who is at risk of becoming a victim of human trafficking?

Since human trafficking victims can be men or women, adults or children, and foreign nationals or U.S. citizens, trafficking is a crime that cuts across race, nationality, gender, age, and socio-economic background. However, human traffickers typically prey on individuals who are vulnerable in some way. Some examples of high risk populations include undocumented migrants, runaways and at-risk youth, and oppressed or marginalized groups. Click here to learn about red flags and potential indicators.

Back to top.

How many human trafficking victims are there in the United States?

Due to the covert nature of the crime and high levels of under-reporting, the total number of victims of human trafficking within the United States is still being researched by the government and academic researchers.  However, a range of estimates have been released by some government agencies and non-governmental organizations.  Click here for statistics about human trafficking in the U.S.

Back to top.

Do victims of human trafficking self-identify as a victim of a crime and ask for help immediately?

Often no. Victims of human trafficking often do not seek help immediately, due to lack of trust, self-blame, or being directly trained by traffickers to distrust authorities. Click here to learn about red flags and potential indicators to help you identify human trafficking.

Back to top.

What types of human trafficking can be found in the United States?

Go to the Resources section to learn more about the scope and scale of human trafficking in the United States.

Back to top.

Does human trafficking only occur in illegal underground industries?

While human trafficking does occur in illegal and underground markets, it can also occur in legal and legitimate settings. For example, common locations of human trafficking include private homes, hotels, nail salons, restaurants, bars, strip clubs, and fake massage businesses.

Back to top.

How is pimping a form of sex trafficking?

If certain behaviors and elements of control are present, yes, it can be.  In the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, a severe form of sex trafficking is a crime 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. Pimps, who are motivated by the opportunity to make money, sell women and girls in the commercial sex industry by using numerous methods to gain control over their bodies and minds.  Many of these behaviors direclty meet the definitions of force, fraud, or coercion that are the central elements of the crime of human trafficking.  It is often difficult to identify a pimp who is not using some form of deceit, lies, manipulation, threats, or violence towards the women or girls they are attempting to control.  An elaborated list of these controlling behaviors of pimps is provided below:

Force

  • Beating and slapping
  • Beating with objects (bat, tools, chains, belts, hangers, canes, cords)
  • Burning
  • Sexual assault
  • Rape and gang rape
  • Confinement and physical restraint
Fraud
  • False promises
  • Deceitful enticing and affectionate behavior
  • Lying about working conditions
  • Lying about the promise of a better life, “selling a dream”
Coercion
  • Threats of serious harm or restraint
  • Intimidation and humiliation
  • Creating a climate of fear
  • Enforcement of trivial demands
  • Occasional Indulgences
  • Intense manipulation
  • Emotional abuse
  • Isolation
  • Creating dependency and fear of independence

Click here for more information about state and federal laws defining human trafficking, or click here for more resources about sex trafficking and pimp-controlled prostitution.

Back to top.

Are pimps managers who offer protection to women and girls in the sex industry and split the money earned through commercial sex acts?

No. Contrary to common perceptions, pimps often do not offer protection, and they are not benevolent managers. These images of a pimp are often romanticized and glamorized and are far from the actual reality of how pimps behave.  Instead, pimps usually take all of the money and typically establish nightly monetary quotas that women and children are forced to earn in order to avoid violent repercussions. Pimps even “brand” those under their control with tattoos of their name to demonstrate ownership.

Back to top.

How do I get a copy of the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report?

The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is published annually by the Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.  An electronic archive of previous TIP Reports can be accessed at http://www.state.gov/g/tip/.  You can also contact the State Department office directly at 202-312-9639 to request a free hard copy of the report.

Back to top.

How do I order HHS' Rescue and Restore materials?

Rescue and Restore materials may be ordered for free online at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking.

Back to top.