Human Trafficking is Modern-Day Slavery. A victim of trafficking may look like many of the people you see every day. Ask the right questions and look for clues. You are vital because you may be the only outsider with the opportunity to speak with a victim.

If you suspect human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (1.88.3737.888)

What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery. Victims of human trafficking are subjected to force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of sexual exploitation[1] or force labor. Victims are young children, teenagers, men and women.

After drug dealing, human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today, and it is the fastest growing.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) defines “Severe Forms of Trafficking in Persons” as:

  • Sex Trafficking: The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act[2], in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person forced to perform such an act is under the age of 18 years; or
  • 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.

Trafficking Victims

Approximately 600,000 to 800,000 victims annually are trafficked across international borders worldwide, and between 14,500 and 17,500 of those victims are trafficked into the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of State. These estimates include women, men and children. Victims are generally trafficked into the U.S. from Asia, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe. Many victims trafficked into the United States do not speak and understand English and are therefore isolated and unable to communicate with service providers, law enforcement and others who might be able to help them.

Referral Hotline 1.888.373.7888

How Victims are Trafficked

Many victims of trafficking are exploited for purposes of commercial sex, including prostitution, stripping, pornography and live-sex shows. However, trafficking also takes place as labor exploitation, such as domestic servitude, sweatshop factories, or migrant agricultural work. Traffickers use force, fraud and coercion to compel women, men and children to engage in these activities.

Force involves the use of rape, beatings and confinement to control victims. Forceful violence is used especially during the early stages of victimization, known as the ‘seasoning process’, which is used to break victim’s resistance to make them easier to control.

Fraud often involves false offers that induce people into trafficking situations. For example, women and children will reply to advertisements promising jobs as waitresses, maids and dancers in other countries and are then trafficked for purposes of prostitution once they arrive at their destinations.

Coercion involves threats of serious harm to, or physical restraint of, any person; any scheme, plan or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that failure to perform an act would result in serious harm to or physical restraint against any person; or the abuse or threatened abuse of the legal process.

Trafficking Information

Victims of trafficking are often subjected to debt-bondage, usually in the context of paying off transportation fees into the destination countries. Traffickers often threaten victims with injury or death, or the safety of the victims´ family back home. Traffickers commonly take away the victims´ travel documents and isolate them to make escape more difficult.

Victims do not realize that their debts are often legally unenforceable and, in any event, that it is illegal for traffickers to dictate how they have to pay off their debts. In many cases, the victims are trapped into a cycle of debt because they have to pay for all living expenses in addition to the initial transportation expenses. Fines for not meeting daily quotas of service or “bad” behavior are also used by some trafficking operations to increase debt. Most trafficked victims rarely see the money they are supposedly earning and may not even know the specific amount of their debt. Even if the victims sense that debt-bondage is unjust, it is difficult for them to find help because of language, social, and physical barriers that keep them from obtaining assistance.

Trafficking vs. Smuggling

Human Trafficking Migrant Smuggling
Victims either do not consent to their situations, or if they initially consent, that consent is rendered meaningless by the actions of the traffickers. Migrant smuggling includes those who consent to being smuggled.
Ongoing exploitation of victims to generate illicit profits for the traffickers. Smuggling is a breach of the integrity of a nation´s borders.
Trafficking need not entail the physical movement of a person (but must entail the exploitation of the person for labor or commercial sex). Smuggling is always transnational.

1 – ″Exploitation″ – rather than trafficking – may be a more accurate description because the crime involves making people perform labor or commercial sex against their will.

2 – As defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the term ′commercial sex act′ means any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.

Human Trafficking Statistics

  • After drug dealing, human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today, and it is the fastest growing (Dept. of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement)
  • It is estimated that 800,000 people are trafficked internationally every year (U.S. State Department)
  • It is estimated that 14,000-17,000 people are trafficked into the United States every year from other countries (U.S. State Department)
  • It is estimated that 50% of trafficking victims internationally are children (U.S. Dept. of Justice)
  • 80% of victims are female (U.S. State Department)
  • 13 is the average age of first being prostituted and trafficked in the commercial sex industry in the United States. (Polaris Project)
  • 244,000-325,000 American children and youth are at risk for sexual exploitation and sex trafficking every year. (University of Pennsylvania)

How to Identify a Human Trafficking Victim

Source: USCCB

These are some red flags:

  •  Seems anxious, fearful or paranoid.  Avoids eye contact.
  • Tearfulness or signs of depression.
  • Unexplained bruises or cuts or other signs of physical abuse.
  • Appears to be in a relationship with someone who is dominating.
  • Never is alone and/or always has someone translating or answering questions on their behalf.
  • Not in control of their own finances.
  • Presents with secrecy or unable to answer questions about where they live.
  • Inconsistent details when telling their story.
  • Has no identification such as a license, passport or other ID documents.
  • Inability to leave their job or residence.  Says they cannot schedule appointments.
  • Being a recent arrival to the United States and does not speak English.
  • Is under 18 and providing commercial sex acts.  Or at any age unwillingly providing commercial sex acts.
  • Is afraid of law enforcement or receiving help from an outside entity.

If you can find an opportunity to get he/she alone, ask him/her the following screening questions:

  •  Can you leave your job or house when you want?
  • Where did you get those bruises or is anyone hurting you?
  • Do you get paid for your employment?  Is it fair?  How many hours do you work?
  • (If foreign national) How did you get to the U.S. and is it what you expected?  Are you being forced to do anything you don’t want to do?
  • Are you or your family being threatened?
  • Do you live with or near your employer?  Does your employer provide you housing?  Are there locks on doors or windows from outside?
  • Do you owe debt to anyone?

If you suspect they are a victim of human trafficking,take the following actions:

  • Ask the person if you can help them find a safe place to go immediately.
  •  If they need time, create an action plan with them to get to a safe place when they are ready.
  •  Call and make a report to the human trafficking hotline at 1.888.3737.888.  The hotline has language capabilities, so any individual can call directly if they choose.
  •  If you need more guidance, you can call and talk through the case with USCCB Anti-trafficking program staff at 202.541.3357.

Child Trafficking

Source: USCCB

What is Child Trafficking?

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) defines “severe forms of human trafficking” as:

The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for:

  • sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or
  • labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Coercion includes threats of physical or psychological harm to children and/or their families. Any child (under the age of 18) engaged in commercial sex is a victim of trafficking.

Human trafficking happens “anytime and anywhere,” impacting more than 12 million children and adults, according to the 2010 U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report. The International Labour Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimate that 1.2 million of these victims are under the age of 18.

Children 12 and younger are included in the numbers exploited and abused by traffickers. When children are trafficked, their right to develop in a nurturing and loving environment is stolen from them. Their right to be free and protected from sexual, physical, and emotional abuse is also taken from them. At times, individuals whom they perceive as their protectors and caregivers are the individuals that prey on them.  Exploiting children through forced labor or commercial sex, traffickers take many forms including peers, community and family connections, pimps, family members or organized labor groups.

Protecting children from this horrendous reality starts with awareness.

What are the indicators of child trafficking?

These indicators were compiled through joint efforts of Migration and Refugee Services/Anti-Trafficking Services Program staff and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime:

  • Evidence of sexual, physical, mental or emotional abuse
  • Engagement in work unsuitable for children
  • Identification/documents confiscated by employer or someone else
  • Isolation – no access to family members or friends
  • Not in school or significant gaps in schooling
  • Threats against family members
  • Working unusually long hours, no access to their wages, and/or little, if any, time off
  • Living in the workplace or with employer
  • Have tattoos or other marks indicating ownership by their exploiter – “branding”
  • Children owing large sums of money
  • Appear unusually fearful or anxious for themselves or family members

What should you do if you encountered a child victim?

1.    Contact your local law enforcement or child protection authorities in accordance with your state’s mandatory child abuse/neglect reporting laws.  Many cases of trafficking may be prosecuted as child abuse, and vice-versa, depending on local laws.  Law enforcement and child welfare agencies cross-reports in most jurisdictions; however, it is a good idea to contact both.  Keep in mind that if you are a mandatory reporter, many state laws require that you directly report suspected child abuse and neglect and cannot give the responsibility to report to another person.

2.    Call the USCCB Anti-Trafficking Services Program 1-866-504-9966 for case consultation and accessing services in your area for foreign national child victims of trafficking.

3.    Call the National Trafficking in Persons Information and Referral Hotline 1-888-373-7888 (funded by the Department of Health and Human Services/Office of Refugee Resettlement) for general information, or to access services in your area.

4.    Call the national Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force complaint line 1-888-428-7581 (sponsored by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor) to begin an investigation of a suspected case by federal law enforcement authorities.

5.    Contact the Department of Health and Human Services/Office of Refugee Resettlement Child Protection Specialist to request interim assistance and eligibility letters for foreign national child victims of human trafficking. 202-205-4582 or childtrafficking

Trafficking impacts more than adults – it impacts children and teenagers, the most vulnerable segment of our society and the consequences of trafficking are grave and far-reaching for this population.


Additional Resources:

USCCB – Human Trafficking

Not For Sale:  End Human Trafficking