What is Human Trafficking?

Image Source:  Polaris Project

Image Source: Polaris Project

Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons, is a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers lure individuals with false promises of employment and a better life. Traffickers often take advantage of poor, unemployed individuals who lack access to social services.
To consider a situation trafficking depends on the type of work, and the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain or maintain work.
What are the types of trafficking in persons?
Under U.S. Federal law, there are two main categories of human trafficking:

  • Sex trafficking:  recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act where the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion; or the person being induced to perform such act is under 18 years of age.
  • Labor trafficking: 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 involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Who are trafficked?
According to the International Labour Organization, a United Nations agency dealing with global labor standards, there are estimated 20.9 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, with 68% of them are trapped in forced labor; 22% are victims of forced sexual exploitation; 26% of them are children; and 55% are women and girls.
According to the U.S. Department of State, there are 27 countries listed in Tier 3, which are countries whose governments do not fully meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA)minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so. The TVPA is the landmark legislation that defined a human trafficking victim as a person induced to perform labor or a commercial sex act through force, fraud, or coercion.
What industries are affected?
According to the Polaris Project, a nonprofit, private organization that works to combat and prevent modern-day slavery and human trafficking, there are 25 industries in the U.S. where trafficking is prevalent. Polaris recently released a report which gives a broader picture of trafficking and dispels myths about victims and survivors. These include:

  • Escort services: Commercial sex at a temporary indoor location (hotels/motels, out-call/in-call).
  • Illicit massage, health & beauty: Façade of legitimate spa services; victims are mostly from China, South Korea, and Southeast Asia.
  • Outdoor solicitation: Traffickers force victims to find buyers in an outdoor, public setting; victims are predominantly female U.S. citizens.
  • Residential sex work: Victims are mostly from Latin America and Southeast Asia; includes child victims, with boys making a growing percentage.
  • Domestic work: Survivors are predominantly middle-aged to older-aged women from the Philippines. See related article, A Story of Slavery in Modern America.  
  • Bars, strip clubs & cantinas: Frequent victims are U.S. citizen and Eastern European women and girls, while victims at cantinas are from Mexico and Central America.
  • Pornography: While most survivors in these cases are female, the rate of male victimization is four times the rate in other sex trafficking types.
  • Traveling sales crews: U.S. citizen teens and young adults from marginalized and economically disadvantaged communities are frequent victims.
  • Restaurants & food service: Traffickers often take advantage of language barriers between exploited workers (cooks, bus & wait staff) and patrons to help avoid detection.
  • Peddling & begging: Young U.S. children are forced to sell candy or solicit “donations” for seemingly legitimate organizations claiming to serve “at-risk youth.
  • Agriculture & Animal Husbandry: Victims typically work in tobacco, cattle/dairy, orange, tomato, and strawberry farms.
  • Personal sexual servitude: Typically, a girl or woman is permanently sold by her family to an individual for the explicit purpose of engaging in sex over a long period of time. Victims are mostly U.S. citizens (e.g. runaway homeless youth and LGBTQ minors).
  • Health & beauty services: Nail salons, hair salons, and health spas.
  • Construction: Most survivors are men from Mexico and the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala), with H-2B visas or undocumented.
  • Hotels & Hospitality: Most are women and men from Jamaica, the Philippines, and India, on H-2B or J-1 visas.
  • Landscaping: Majority of victims are from Mexico with H-2B visas or undocumented.
  • Illicit activities: Street-level drug distribution businesses and cross-border drug smuggling, along with general domestic gang activity and in tandem with sex trafficking.
  • Arts & Entertainment: Victims are in modeling, athletics and, less commonly, in performing arts such as acting, choirs, and dance troupes.
  • Commercial cleaning services: Men, women, and unaccompanied children from Latin America are most susceptible.
  • Factories & Manufacturing: Victims are mostly from Southeast Asia, Latin America, and India.
  • Remote interactive sexual acts: Webcams, text-based chats, and phone sex lines; U.S. citizen females are the most frequent victims; minors and LGBTQ are also susceptible.
  • Carnivals: Most cases involve men and women from Mexico or South Africa on H-2B visas. May also include U.S. citizens.
  • Forestry & Logging: Men from Mexico and Guatemala on H-2B visas who work as pine tree farm workers, reforestation planters, loggers, and workers maintaining woodlands.
  • Healthcare: Nursing home workers and home health aides from the Philippines and West Africa on H-1B, H-2B, J-1, or H-1C (registered nurse) visas.
  • Recreational Facilities: Lifeguards, camp counselors, ride attendants, and food vendors on J-1 visas working at amusement parks, summer camps, golf courses, and community swimming pools.

If you or someone you know is in a trafficking situation, call the National Trafficking Helpline: 1-888-373-7888 or email: help@humantraffickinghotline.org to get help. To connect with local services, text HELP to 233733 (BEFREE).

For victim services and remedies, read our related blog posts, Remedies for Trafficking Victimsand Green Card for Trafficking VictimsContact us  for more information.  Follow us on InstagramTwitterFacebookLinkedIn and Tumblr, for up-to-date immigration news.

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