There is not a consistent type or profile of a trafficking victim. Based on U.S. federal law, trafficked persons in the U.S. can be men or women, adults or children, and foreign nationals or U.S. citizens. Some are well-educated, while others have no formal education. Some immigrant victims are currently in the U.S. legally, and others are undocumented. Some form of vulnerability tends to be the common thread amongst all different trafficking victims.
It is essential to remember that vulnerability to human trafficking is far-reaching, spanning multiple different areas such as age, socio-economic status, nationality, education-level, or gender. Traffickers often prey on people who are hoping for a better life, lack employment opportunities, have an unstable home life, or have a history of sexual abuse - conditions that are present in all spheres of society.
Human trafficking victims have been identified in cities, suburbs, and rural areas in all 50 states and in Washington, D.C. They are forced to work or provide commercial sex against their will in legal and legitimate business settings as well as underground markets. Some victims are hidden behind locked doors in brothels and factories. In other cases, victims are in plain view and may interact with community members, but the widespread lack of awareness and understanding of trafficking leads to low levels of victim identification by the people who most often encounter them. For example, women and girls in sex trafficking situations, especially U.S. citizens, are often misidentified as "willing" participants in the sex trade who make a free choice each day to be there.
While anyone can become a victim of trafficking, certain populations are especially vulnerable. These may include: undocumented immigrants; runaway and homeless youth; victims of trauma and abuse; refugees and individuals fleeing conflict; and oppressed, marginalized, and/or impoverished groups and individuals.
Undocumented immigrants in the U.S. 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, shelter, and other means of support.
Runaways and at-risk youth are targeted by pimps and traffickers for exploitation in the commercial sex industry or different labor or services industries. Pimps and sex traffickers are skilled at manipulating child victims and maintaining control through a combination of deception, lies, feigned affection, threats, and violence.
Trafficking victims in the U.S. under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 include:
- Minors (under age 18) induced to perform commercial sex acts
- Those age 18 or over who are forced, deceived, or coerced into providing commercial sex acts
- Children and adults forced to perform labor and/or services in conditions of involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery, through force, fraud, or coercion
The needs of survivors of trafficking are among the most complex of crime victims, often requiring a multidisciplinary approach to address severe trauma and medical needs, immigration and other legal issues, safety concerns, shelter and other basic daily needs, and financial hardship. For more information about the services available to victims of human trafficking, including comprehensive service referrals in the U.S., click here.