Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery, in which human beings are controlled and exploited for profit. Perpetrators use force, fraud, or coercion to manipulate and establish control over individuals. Although human trafficking violates international and national laws, it is a burgeoning criminal industry. According to the International Labor Organization, human trafficking 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, under the threat of some sort of punishment. While statistics are difficult to assess, the International Labour Organization estimates that 20.9 million people are subjected to forced labor, 14.2 million (68%) of whom are exploited in activities such as agriculture, construction, domestic work, and manufacturing, and 4.5 million (22%) of whom are exploited for sex.
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. Prior to their trafficking situation, individuals may:
- Come from a low socio-economic background
- Be homeless or have run away from home
- Be an immigrant seeking a better life or opportunity
- 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.