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What is Human Trafficking?

Understanding Human Trafficking

Human trafficking happens in every corner of the world. There are an estimated 21 million people in forced or coerced human trafficking worldwide. Yet it’s not nearly talked about enough.

But what exactly is human trafficking?

According to the U.S. Department of State, human trafficking is described as the “act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.” It is a crime the manipulates and exploits women, men, and children through force or coercion.

It is a crime that generates $150.2 billion per year in illegal profits globally.

Forms of Trafficking

Most human trafficking victims are exploited through forced labor and sex trafficking. Sex trafficking occurs when an adult or child engages in commercial sex as a result of force, threats, fraud or coercion. A person can be found guilty of sex trafficking if they have recruited, transported, solicited or patronized a human trafficking victim. However, when the victim is a minor, a person can be found guilty without proving force, fraud or coercion.

Additionally, as the internet becomes more accessible, cybersex trafficking has grown as a subsector of the human trafficking industry. The livestreaming of sexual abuse has become more prevalent, as traffickers are able to exploit victims from virtually anywhere in the world.

Forced labor occurs when a person uses threats, abuse, fraud or coercion to force someone to provide or continue to provide some form of labor, regardless of whether the person previously consented to the work.

Employers who use debt to force workers into labor engage in a form of forced labor known as debt bondage. Domestic workers are uniquely vulnerable to human trafficking due to being isolated as well as the difficulty in providing oversight in provide homes – this allows many to be forced to work in slave-like conditions, known as domestic servitude.

Although the scale of the problems are much more limited in comparison to sex trafficking and forced labor, other forms of trafficking include organ removal for the black market, illegal adoption, child marriage and the use of child soldiers.

The Scope of the Problem

To effectively combat it, we must first recognize the full scope of the problem. In the United States, human trafficking has been reported in all 50 states and Washington D.C. And in Hampton Roads, there have been about 170 new human trafficking investigations launched in the last two years.

Although there are victims of human trafficking that are moved and traveled across borders and state lines, many victims are exploited in their own hometowns or born into a state of servitude. Victims are often working right in front of our eyes in industries such as agriculture, construction and caretaking. The perpetrators often use forms of coercion that do not necessarily involve physical harm in order to recruit people into human trafficking rings:

  • Kidnapping, illegal adoption and forced marriage.

  • False job advertisements or employment prospects, debt bondage and wage theft.

  • Violence, physical threats, intimidation and isolation.

  • Psychological manipulation, seduction, dependency and false offers of protection.

The Intersection of Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking

Traffickers prey on the most vulnerable. Like sexual assault, human trafficking is premised on power and control over another person. Trafficked persons are particularly susceptible to sexual assault and exploitation.

Sexual violence can occur in every type of trafficking situation.

Examples of the ways in which sexual assault can occur and be overlooked during the course of different types of trafficking situations include:

·Commercial Sex Industry: Although not all people who work in the sex industry are trafficked, those engaged in the commercial sex industry are at an extremely high risk of sexual assault. Because sex work is so stigmatized, sexual assaults suffered by sex workers are both underreported and undervalued.

·Domestic Servitude: There are an increasing number of cases in which traffickers force their intimate partners and spouses to perform services and labor, such as domestic work, working at family businesses, or sex work. Often, the trafficking victim is emotionally manipulated, coerced, or forced into having sex with his or her intimate partner/trafficker and/or other individuals.

·Workplace: Sexual assault in formal and informal workplaces is under-reported and under-identified. Workplace sexual harassment occurs when the perpetrator of the assault and/or the trafficker is also the victim’s employer (or an agent of the employer) and the harmful act occurs on the job. This includes situations in which the perpetrator is a co-worker, or even a non-employee such as a customer, if the employer “knew or should have known of abuse that involved the workplace and failed to take prompt and appropriate remedial action.” Sexual assault and/or harassment of trafficking victims is common in restaurants, bars, domestic work, factories, agriculture, and home care industries.

What can I do?

Being informed is the first step in being able to combat human trafficking in our communities.

For more information about human trafficking, please visit:

Anti-Slavery International:

Samaritan House:

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call the national human trafficking hotline at: 1-888-373-7888.

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Because Sexual Assault Affects us All

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