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Human Trafficking: The Problem

Human trafficking happens in almost every country around the world, including the United States. Traffickers represent every social, ethnic, and racial group. Various organizational types exist in trafficking, including large nationwide gangs and criminal organizations, local street and motorcycle gangs, and individuals with no affiliation with any one group or organization. Traffickers are not only men; women are also perpetrators.1 Increasingly, traffickers are using fear tactics to lure children and youth into commercial sex acts and/or compelled labor. The base of the issue is the traffickers’ goal of exploiting and enslaving victims and the coercive and deceptive practices they use to do so.

Traffickers may exploit youth for the purpose of commercial sex or forced labor:

  • Recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing, obtaining, and/or maintaining a minor for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation
  • Exploiting a minor through prostitution
  • Exploiting a minor through survival sex (exchanging sex/sexual acts for money or something of value, such as shelter, food, or drugs)
  • Exploiting a minor through sex tourism
  • Exploiting a minor by having her or him perform in sexual venues (e.g., peep shows, strip clubs)
  • Exploiting a minor through forced labor, including involuntary domestic servitude (e.g., nanny, maid)
  • Exploiting a minor through bonded labor or debt bondage
  • Exploiting a minor through forced child labor (e.g., sweatshop workers, janitors, restaurant workers, fishery workers, hotel and tourist industry workers, beggars)

Click here to learn more about these different forms of trafficking.

Young people, especially those with risk factors, are vulnerable to human trafficking. The Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued new guidance on child trafficking to child welfare systems and runaway and homeless youth programs because of increased vulnerability to trafficking for youth who have experienced prior abuse or who have run away from home. Click here to learn more about the risk factors that a recent Institute of Medicine (IOC) and National Research Council (NRC) report identified. These young people are often preyed on by traffickers and lured with false promises of love, money, or simply a better life. Traffickers may also use a variety of techniques to instill fear in victims and ensure that they remain under their control:

  • Physically restricting victims or restricting their freedom of movement (e.g., keeping victims under lock and key or constant surveillance)
  • Using debt bondage (e.g., imposing financial obligations, convincing victims they are honor-bound to satisfy debt)
  • Isolating victims from the public (e.g., limiting contact with outsiders, ensuring that contact is monitored or superficial)
  • Isolating victims from their family members and members of their ethnic and religious community
  • Confiscating victims’ passports, visas, and identification documents
  • Using or threatening to use violence toward victims and their families
  • Threatening to shame victims by exposing their circumstances to their family
  • Telling victims that they will be imprisoned for crimes they were forced to commit or deported for immigration violations if they contact authorities
  • Controlling victims’ money (e.g., holding their money for “safekeeping”)2

1 Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2011). FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin: Human sex trafficking. Retrieved from https://leb.fbi.gov/2011/march/human-sex-trafficking
2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (2012). Tips for identifying and helping victims of human trafficking. Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/orr/tips_for_identifying_and_helping_victims_of_human_trafficking.pdf (PDF, 2 pages)

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