Human trafficking and modern-day slavery are umbrella terms – often used interchangeably – that refer to the exploitation of individuals through threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, and/or deception. It includes the practices of forced labor, debt bondage, domestic servitude, forced marriage, sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers, among others. The most common forms of exploitation are forced labor, which, according to the International Labor Organization, impacts 24.9 million people a year – 16 million in private sector exploitation, 4 million in state sanctioned forced labor, and 4.8 million in sex trafficking – and forced marriage, which enslaves 15.4 million individuals. The ILO estimates that forced labor generates $150 billion in illegal profits each year.

The two most commonly known forms of human trafficking are sexual exploitation and forced labor. Any instance in which an individual engages in a commercial sex act (such as prostitution) as the result of force, fraud, or coercion, is considered sex trafficking. Sex trafficking also includes the commercial sexual exploitation of children or minors (commonly abbreviated as CSEC).  Forced labor can occur within any form of labor or services, and it is defined as the subjection of individuals to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. In all instances of forced labor, the individual works against his or her will, for little or no pay, and/or under the threat of some sort of punishment.

Trafficked persons may be forced or coerced to work in a variety of settings, both hidden and in plain sight. Some examples include factories, “sweatshops,” fields, brothels, “massage” parlors, online escort services, on street corners, as child soldiers, or in private homes. The most common industries associated with the trafficking in persons include: agriculture, construction, garment and textile manufacturing, catering and restaurants, domestic work, entertainment, and the sex industry.

While human trafficking spans all demographics, trafficked persons most often come from positions of vulnerability. Those most vulnerable to trafficking include: Prior to their trafficking situation, individuals may:

  • Come from a low socio-economic background
  • Be homeless or have run away from home
  • Be a political, cultural, or ethnic minority
  • Be an immigrant
  • Have a history of sexual abuse, rape, or domestic violence
  • Be in foster care
  • Have been subject to natural disasters, conflict, or political turmoil

These vulnerabilities are the result of policies and practices that marginalize entire groups of people and make them particularly susceptible to exploitation. Traffickers use these vulnerabilities to their advantage and use a number of tactics to establish control over victims. Violence, isolation, threats, deception, manipulation, debt bondage, prospects of an education, and romance are just a few methods used. Traffickers may operate alone with one or many victims or may be a part of an extensive criminal network. Examples of trafficking rings include: gang members, family members, pimps, business owners, or smugglers.