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What is Human Trafficking?

hu·man traf·fick·ing

noun; the illegal movement of people, typically for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.

What is Human Trafficking?

The Department of Homeland Security describes human trafficking as a modern-day form of slavery involving the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain. At Fight to End Exploitation, we consider human trafficking a public health emergency. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked in countries around the world, including the United States and our home state of Wisconsin.  It is estimated that human trafficking generates billions of dollars of profit annually, second only to drug trafficking, as the most profitable form of transnational crime.

Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 established methods of prosecuting traffickers, preventing human trafficking, and protecting victims and survivors of trafficking. The act established human trafficking and related offenses as federal crimes. The Reauthorization acts of 2003, 2005, 2008, 2013, 2015, and 2017 further established federal legislation and guidelines for addressing human trafficking nationwide.

The TVPA defines sex trafficking as:

The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the 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.

Labor trafficking is defined by the TVPA as:

The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Human trafficking is a hidden crime as victims rarely come forward to seek help because of fear of traffickers, fear of law enforcement, stigmas surrounding sex work, and shame.

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 improved upon the United States response to human trafficking including many amendments that strengthened support for adult and juvenile victims. Notably, it added human trafficking and child pornography as forms of child abuse. 

The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014

The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act of 2014 sought to reduce incidences of sex trafficking among youth in the foster care system. The legislation specifically outlines requirements for reporting child sex trafficking and protocols for identifying it.

As the National Human Trafficking Hotline states, “anyone can experience trafficking in any community, just as anyone can be the victim of any kind of crime.”

  • In 2013, the FBI projected that between 60% and 70% of trafficked children in the U.S. come from child social services or the foster care system.
  • The National Human Trafficking Hotline estimates that 1 in 7 runaways are likely victims of sex trafficking. 
  • According to the statistics gathered by the National Human Trafficking Hotline, adult women make up 49% of identified human trafficking victims while girls make up 23%, adult males make up 21%, and boys make up 7%. 
  • Child marriage is considered a form of human trafficking. According to data analyzed by Frontline, in the United States, more than 200,000 minors were married between 2000 and 2015. 

Human trafficking affects all demographics however, there are some risk factors that make specific populations more vulnerable.

One higher risk population is Black women and girls. According to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, compared to their racial counterparts, Black women and girls suffer higher rates of low socioeconomic status, child welfare and criminal justice involvement, education gaps, and history of physical/sexual abuse. Coupled with their hypersexualization and treatment of Black girls as older than they really are must be taken into account when identifying the prevalence of sex trafficking through the United States. 

Another high-risk population is the LGBTQ+ and QPOC communities. The National Coalition for the Homeless found that LGBTQ+ youth are approximately 7.4 times more likely to experience acts of sexual violence than heterosexual homeless youth. Individuals identifying as LGBTQ+ and QPOC have higher rates of discrimination, violence, and economic instability as well as fewer resources and social supports. These vulnerabilities are often targeted and exploited by traffickers and abusers.

Studies show that Black women and girls and LGBTQ+ and QPOC communities are overrepresented in prostitution-related offenses, report higher levels of police misconduct, and state the prevalence of implicit bias when working with welfare, criminal justice, and restorative systems. 

Vulnerabilities that traffickers take advantage of include: 

  • Unstable living situations including homelessness and running away 
  • Previous experience(s) with other forms of violence such as sexual abuse or domestic violence
  • Involvement  in the juvenile justice or child welfare system
  • Immigrants, often coming to the United States under work visas 
  • Poverty or economic need
  • Addiction 
  • Unable to meet basic needs such as food, clothing, and rent 

A good rule of thumb is anywhere there are people, there are traffickers and recruiters. 

Victims are recruited from everywhere; the most common and fast-growing recruiting grounds are schools. Schools have the largest concentrated population of potential victims and certainly in the age range that most victims enter the life of human trafficking. 

Other places that traffickers seek out vulnerable people are: 

  • Homeless and domestic violence shelters 
  • Group homes and foster care 
  • Neighborhoods, including the victim’s home 
  • Churches/church groups/youth groups 
  • Fast food restaurants 
  • Mall/social hangouts 
  • Social media/online 
  • Parks 
  • Bus stops/transportation
  • Jail/detention centers 
  • Schools/School events/Student functions/College parties 

The International Labor Organization reports that globally, traffickers exploit 77% of victims in their countries of residence. 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.

Based on human trafficking cases that have been identified by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, examples of traffickers may include:

  • Brothel and fake massage business owners and managers
  • Employers of domestic servants
  • Gangs and criminal networks
  • Growers and crew leaders in agriculture
  • Intimate partners/family members
  • Labor brokers
  • Factory owners and corporations
  • Pimps
  • Small business owners and managers

Reporting Human Trafficking

If you believe you are a victim of human trafficking or may have information about a potential trafficking situation, please contact the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, please call 911.

Report a Tip. Get Help.

Ready to Learn More?

Are you a parent, community member, or educator who would like to learn more about human trafficking? Are you a professional group, conference, or large gathering that would benefit from a FEE speaker? Are you hosting an event where a Fight to End Exploitation Info Table could be set up to engage your audience? Education is the number one way to stop human trafficking and we are eager to provide training and resources to help end the exploitation of people.

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