Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others.
Although slavery is commonly thought to be a thing of the past, human trafficking still exists today throughout the United States and globally when traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control other people for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex or forcing them to provide labor services against their will. Traffickers use violence, threats, deception, debt bondage, and other manipulative tactics to trap victims in horrific situations every day in America. All trafficking victims share one essential experience – the loss of freedom.
In the United States, sex trafficking commonly occurs in online escort services, residential brothels, brothels disguised as massage businesses or spas, and in street prostitution. Labor trafficking has been found in domestic servitude situations, as well as sales crews, large farms, restaurants, carnivals, and more.
There are two primary factors driving the spread of human trafficking: high profits and low risk. Like drug and arms trafficking, human trafficking is a market-driven criminal industry that is based on the principles of supply and demand. Every year, traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits by victimizing millions of people around the world, including here in the United States.
Learn more about human trafficking at www.traffickingresourcecenter.org.
- The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally, including 5.5 million children. 55% are women and girls.
- In 2013, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, operated by Polaris, received multiple reports of human trafficking cases in all 50 states and D.C. Find more hotline statistics here.
- The International Labor Organization estimates that forced labor and human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide.
- There is no official estimate of the total number of human trafficking victims in the U.S. With 100,000 children estimated to be in the sex trade in the United States each year, it is clear that the total number of victims nationally reaches into the hundreds of thousands when estimates of both adults and minors and sex trafficking and labor trafficking are aggregated.[MF2]
Victims are frequently lured by false promises of a lucrative job, stability, education, or a loving relationship. In the U.S., victims can be men or women, adults or children, foreign nationals or U.S. citizens. While they share the trait of vulnerability, victims have diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, varied levels of education, and may be documented or undocumented.
As defined under U.S. law, victims of human trafficking can be divided into three populations:
- Children under age 18 induced into commercial sex.
- Adults aged 18 or over induced into commercial sex through force, fraud, or coercion.
- Children and adults induced to perform labor or services through force, fraud, or coercion.
While human trafficking spans all demographics, there are some circumstances or vulnerabilities that lead to a higher susceptibility to victimization and human trafficking. Runaway and homeless youth, victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, war or conflict, or social discrimination are frequently targeted by traffickers. Foreign nationals who have paid large recruitment and travel fees to labor recruiters, often become highly indebted to the recruiters and traffickers. Traffickers control and manipulate these individuals by leveraging the non-portability of many work visas as well as the victims’ lack of familiarity with surroundings, laws and rights, language fluency, and cultural understanding.
Victims face many challenges in accessing help. Their traffickers may confiscate their identification and money. They may not speak English. They may not know where they are, because they have been moved frequently. They are often not allowed to communicate with family or friends. And they may have trouble trusting others, due to their traffickers’ manipulation and control tactics.
Traffickers lure and ensnare people into forced labor and sex trafficking by manipulating and exploiting their vulnerabilities. Human traffickers recruit, transport, harbor, obtain, and exploit victims – often using force, threats, lies, or other psychological coercion. Traffickers promise a high-paying job, a loving relationship, or new and exciting opportunities. In other cases, they may kidnap victims or use physical violence to control them.
Often the traffickers and their victims share the same national, ethnic, or cultural background, allowing the trafficker to better understand and exploit the vulnerabilities of their victims.
Traffickers can be lone individuals or extensive criminal networks. Pimps, gangs, family members, labor brokers, employers of domestic servants, small business owners, and large factory owners have all been found guilty of human trafficking. Their common thread is a willingness to exploit other human beings for profit.