What Is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is a phenomenon that has been around for decades but that has recently taken the news and society in general by storm. As more and more people become aware of this terrible crime, it’s important to understand and be aware of the dangers and implications that come with this exploitation. It’s also important to know how to protect yourself as well as recognize human trafficking when possible.

In this guide, we will explore what human trafficking is, the different types of human trafficking, and how to recognize modern-day slavery when its present.

What Is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is when a person or group of people coerce, deceive, and exploit another person for personal or financial reasons. In most cases, victims of human trafficking are manipulated into participating in sex trafficking by making false promises so that the leader or group of trafficking ring can make a profit.

Many human trafficking groups are part of a billion-dollar industry that includes international organizations who work together to capture, groom, manipulate, and threaten victims into involuntary servitude. Commercial sex acts, labor trafficking, and sexual exploitation are often major components of human trafficking, and the sex industry is often where this terrible crime is seen.

The crime of human trafficking is taken very seriously in the United States, and there are multiple human trafficking task forces and groups that constantly work to uncover human trafficking cases both in the United States and internationally.

Types Of Human Trafficking

There are two primary types of human trafficking: labor trafficking and sex trafficking. In both cases, victims are exploited through threats, coercion, manipulation, physical and emotional abuse, and drug addiction to participate in these types of trafficking. Many victims feel that they don’t have a choice and fear going to law enforcement due to the threats and manipulation involved.

The following is a description of both major types of human trafficking:

Labor Trafficking

Labor trafficking is a type of domestic servitude or modern-day slavery that involves victims participating in forced labor as a result of manipulation or force. Many trafficking groups use tactics such as debt bondage, threats against the victim’s family members, violence, and other forms of control to force individuals to work for free against their will in various industries.

Examples of labor trafficking include forcing people to work in factories, in homes, and on farms in inhumane conditions and without proper or any compensation.

A large number of trafficking victims are responsible for the food products and consumer goods that many of us rely on in everyday life. This is due to the fact that labor trafficking is much more cost efficient and faster to produce goods as opposed to hiring and paying employees. Unfortunately, the higher the demand, the encouragement human traffickers have to continue the enslavement of innocent victims.

Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking, another primary type of human trafficking, is when victims are manipulated and forced to perform commercial sex acts that bring in profit for the traffickers. Sex trafficking victims include both adults and minors. As with labor trafficking, sex trafficking often involves threats, force, control, debt bondage, and other forms of manipulation to keep victims participating in trafficking and to prevent them from seeking help.

Examples of places where sex trafficking may be present include brothels, fraudulent massage parlors, strip clubs, escort services, truck stops, and motels. In most cases, victims are not compensated for sex acts and the profits are given and kept by the trafficking leaders.

Human Trafficking Statistics

Human trafficking is much more prevalent than many people realize. In fact, an estimated 24.9 million people are victims of trafficking, and that number continues to grow everyday. The following are statistics on human trafficking that may give you a better understanding of just how common this terrible crime is:

  • 43% of human trafficking victims are found, captured, and enslaved within domestic borders
  • 72% of all human trafficking victims are women
  • 28% of all human trafficking victims are children under the age of 18
  • 21% of identified human trafficking victims are men
  • 8,248 human trafficking cases were reported in 2019 alone
  • 7.5 million human trafficking victims are forced to work in the mining, hospitality, construction, and manufacturing industries
  • Human trafficking victims spend an average of 20 months in forced labor or sex trafficking
  • The highest number of victims are found in the Asia-pacific region, following by Africa, Europe, Central Asia, and the United States
  • Human trafficking brings in an estimated $150 billion a year in profits for traffickers
  • Only 439 human traffickers were convicted in 2016

These alarming statistics are only a small piece of the larger picture of human trafficking. While anti-trafficking groups and the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Justice are working hard to combat human trafficking, the prevalence of this vicious crime is still on the rise and a major part of the workforce and sex industry in the United States and around the world.

Who Is Most Susceptible To Human Trafficking?

There is not a specific type of person who is targeted for human trafficking. Every sexual orientation, age, race, ethnicity, gender, and education level can be targeted for this crime. However, there are certain types of individuals that human traffickers specifically prey on.

These individuals are usually of low economic status, vulnerable to manipulation, living in unstable or unsafe environments, or who cannot provide for their family. People who participate in recruiting individuals to traffic go to great lengths to coerce these individuals into thinking that working for them will solve all of their problems. For example, a human trafficker may make a false promise that if the person works for them, the trafficker will provide for the person’s family or give them money to send back to their family if they live in a different country.

Trafficking victims can be both United States citizens and migrants from other countries. Additionally, many traffickers prey on illegal immigrants and use this information as blackmail to keep the person working for them.

A few of the most susceptible populations of human trafficking include:

  • Those who are questioning or struggling with their sexual identity, such as gay individuals, lesbians, and transgenders
  • American Indians
  • Alaska Natives
  • Those with disabilities
  • Homeless people, especially homeless youth
  • Those who have experienced previous forms of sexual or physical violence
  • Individuals with low self-esteem who are easily persuaded
  • Low-income individuals
  • Runaways
  • Undocumented immigrants
  • Those with substance abuse issues
  • Those with mental health issues

All of these people are more vulnerable to trafficking due to their life circumstances. Traffickers can identify these vulnerabilities and use them as a way to encourage the victims to form a dependency on the traffickers for their livelihoods. The longer a person is involved in human trafficking, the more difficult it can be to get out of it.

Who Is Responsible For Human Trafficking?

Just as with victims, human traffickers do not have a specific demographic or profile. These individuals can be of any race, gender, ethnicity, sex, and socio-economic status. Some perpetrators may use trafficking to support their power and wealth in the community by creating a constant stream of significant income, while others are from low socio-economic statuses similar to those of many trafficking victims.

Examples of individuals who may participate in this inhumane and often organized crime include:

  • Gang members
  • Business owners
  • Individuals
  • Restaurant or farm owners
  • Intimate partners
  • Parents
  • Family members
  • Government representatives
  • Corporate executives
  • Leaders of transnational and national human trafficking rings
  • Previous victims of human trafficking

As you can see, the types of people who participate in human trafficking and the use of force to coerce individuals to take part in trafficking run the gamut. It can be difficult to discern whether a person is taking part in the perpetuation forced labor or sex trafficking.

How Can You Recognize Human Trafficking?

There are a few key signs that can be an indication that human trafficking may be present. Being aware of these signs just might help you save a life.

Signs of human trafficking include:

  • A person is not being paid what they were promised or are working for little or no compensation
  • A person does not have control over their identifying documents such as their passport
  • Regular threats are being made against a person by a boss or other superior
  • A person appears to be regularly monitored by another individual when the person is speaking with others
  • An individual is living in an inhumane or impoverished condition that has been provided by a boss or employer
  • The individual wants to stop participating in sex or labor trafficking but feels afraid or stuck in the situation
  • A person is regularly transported by a guard or chaperone from place to place
  • A person regularly feels pressure to perform sex acts and does receive compensation for these acts
  • An individual is involved with a controlling person such as an intimate partner or parent

If you believe you or someone you know is the victim of human trafficking, it’s important to alert the authorities as soon as possible. You can alert the National Human Trafficking Hotline by calling 1 (888) 373-7888 or text “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733. The hotline employees speak more than 200 languages and are available 24 hours a day and seven days a week. If you believe someone is in imminent danger, call 911.

What Is The AMP Model?

The AMP, or Act, Means, and Purpose, model is a model that was created to better explain the core elements of trafficking as defined by the federal government. One component from each element must be present to determine that the situation is potentially human trafficking. The following is a break down of each component of this model:


The act refers to how a trafficker comes into contact and obtains a human trafficking victim for the purpose of exploitation. Actions that count as an element of this component include:

  • Transports
  • Provides
  • Induces
  • Recruits
  • Harbors
  • Obtains

It’s important to note that if a minor is induced into child commercial sex acts, it is considered child sex trafficking regardless of whether any of the above elements were used.


Means refers to the way in which perpetrators keep human trafficking victims working for them and silent about their situations. There are several different means a trafficker can use, and they will likely cater these means to the specific individual and what may motivate or manipulate them most effectively.

Examples of means in which a human trafficker may keep a person in the cycle of human trafficking include:

  • Abduction
  • Fraud
  • False promises
  • Coercion
  • Threats
  • Use of force
  • Deception
  • Drug addiction
  • Abuse
  • Promising to give out benefits or payments

Human traffickers will typically use any means necessary and available to attract and keep victims in the cycle of forced labor.


The purpose refers to the ultimate goal of human traffickers and perpetrators. There is typically only one component to the element: the exploitation of other human beings.

Human Trafficking Regulations And Laws

There are a number of human trafficking laws and regulations that the Department of Homeland Security has put in place in attempt to decrease the prominence of this crime. These laws include:

  • The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act: The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act, or the TVPA, is an act that works to regularly update and create sustainable human trafficking prevention, provide protection programs for survivors of human trafficking, and prosecuting traffickers.
  • The Customs and Facilitations and Trade Enforcement Reauthorization Act of 2009: This act was put in place as an amendment to the original Tariff Act of 1930 and include updates that prohibit the import of goods to the United States that were manufactured through forced labor or human trafficking.
  • PROTECT Act of 2003: The PROTECT Act, or the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today Act, was designed to protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse commonly seen in human trafficking.
  • Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004: This Act includes Section 7202 which created the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center as a way to enforce more effective integration of the enforcement human trafficking laws and response efforts.

Effects Of Human Trafficking

Victims of human trafficking are susceptible to a number of significant and life-long effects. One of these effects is severe mental trauma. Human trafficking victims are placed in inhumane conditions in which the traffickers dehumanize victims in attempt to gain power and control over the victims. The psychological effects can be severe and range from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to depression, anxiety, and shame.

Another common and unfortunate effect that human trafficking can have on individuals is physical trauma. Some perpetrators use physical force and violence to exploit their victims, and abuse is a regular component of trafficking. Physical abuse, rape, and beatings are more common than we think, and victims are left with permanent physical trauma.

Additionally, those who are being trafficked can quickly begin to withdraw from family and friends in attempt to hide their situation. This ostracism can lead to guilt, shame, depression, and isolation, and further prevent the victim from speaking up. Individuals who have survived and escaped human trafficking may also feel ostracized from their friends, family, and community. Human trafficking is a terrifying and unique experience and survivors may feel as if no one understands their situation or as if others are judging them for their experience.

In short, human trafficking has consequences and implications that span far beyond the act of trafficking. Victims are left with life-long trauma and are less likely to use healthy coping skills to recover.

Resources To Turn To If You Or A Loved One Is Being Human Trafficked

If you or a loved one is involved in human trafficking, alerting the authorities or another person who can help can feel scary and even life threatening. However, there are people who can help and ensure your safety and freedom.

One way to seek help is to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888 or text “HELP” or “INFO” to 233733. The hotline employees speak more than 200 languages and are available 24 hours a day and seven days a week. If you believe someone is in imminent danger, call 911.

Article from Florin Roebig.


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