Human trafficking is a crime involving the exploitation of someone for the purposes of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Human trafficking affects individuals across the world, including the United States, and is commonly regarded as one of the most pressing human rights issues of our time. Human trafficking affects every community in the United States across age, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic backgrounds.
Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age. Labor trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. The Action-Means-Purpose Model can be used to describe the elements of human trafficking. Cases that are considered severe forms of trafficking in persons involve three elements:
- Action, which may be the recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining of an individual. Additional actions that constitute sex trafficking, but not labor trafficking, include patronizing, soliciting, and advertising an individual.
- Through the means of force, fraud, or coercion. Examples of force include physical abuse or assault, sexual abuse or assault, or confinement. Examples of fraud include false promises of work/living conditions, withholding promised wages, or contract fraud. Coercion may include threats of harm to self or others, debt bondage, psychological manipulation, or document confiscation.
- For a specific purpose, either of compelled labor or services or commercial sex act(s). However, it is not necessary to demonstrate force, fraud, or coercion in sex trafficking cases involving children under the age of 18.
Every year, human traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits by victimizing millions of people in the United States and around the world. Traffickers are estimated to exploit 20.9 million victims, with an estimated 1.5 million victims in North America, the European Union, and other developed economies combined. Despite growing awareness about this crime, human trafficking continues to go underreported due to its covert nature, misconceptions about its definition, and a lack of awareness about its indicators. As governments, first responders, and researchers learn more about human trafficking, more information is gathered about the scope of human trafficking in the United States and worldwide.
Why Trafficking Exists
Human trafficking is a market-driven criminal industry that is based on the principles of supply and demand, like drugs or arms trafficking. Many factors make children and adults vulnerable to human trafficking. However, human trafficking does not exist solely because many people are vulnerable to exploitation. Instead, human trafficking is fueled by a demand for cheap labor, services, and for commercial sex. Human traffickers are those who employ force, fraud, or coercion to victimize others in their desire to profit from the existing demand. To ultimately solve the problem of human trafficking, it is essential to address these demand-driven factors, as well as to alter the overall market incentives of high-profit and low-risk that traffickers currently exploit.
Labor trafficking and sex trafficking of U.S. citizens and foreign nationals persist and thrive for a number of reasons, including:
- Low Risk: Human traffickers perceive there to be little risk or deterrence to affect their criminal operations. While investigations, prosecutions, and penalties have increased throughout recent years, many traffickers still believe the high profit margin to be worth the risk of detection. Factors that add to low risk include: lack of government and law enforcement training, low community awareness, ineffective or unused laws, lack of law enforcement investigation, scarce resources for victim recovery services, and social blaming of victims.
- High Profits: When individuals are willing to buy commercial sex, they create a market and make it profitable for traffickers to sexually exploit children and adults. When consumers are willing to buy goods and services from industries that rely on forced labor, they create a profit incentive for labor traffickers to maximize revenue with minimal production costs.
Left unchecked, human trafficking will continue to flourish in environments where traffickers can reap substantial monetary gains with relatively low risk of getting caught or losing profits.
As such, communities can help to reduce sex trafficking in their communities by not buying sex and not participating in the commercial sex industry. Community members can use online tools such as Slavery Footprint to see how human trafficking exists in the services and products they consume, buy fair trade and survivor-made products, and hold their favorite brands accountable for fair labor practices. Alongside the efforts of service providers, criminal prosecutors, and law enforcement, the community can help to reduce the demand for sex and labor trafficking.