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What is Human Trafficking?

Published: August 16, 2012
Audience:
Anti-Trafficking in Persons Program

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. Victims of human trafficking are subjected to force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of commercial sex or forced labor. They are young children, teenagers, men and women. Trafficking in persons occurs throughout the world, including in the United States.

Many victims of human trafficking are forced to work in prostitution or the sex entertainment industry, but trafficking also occurs in forms of labor exploitation in urban, suburban, and rural areas. Victims of labor trafficking who have been identified in the United States include domestic servants, restaurant staff, hotel employees, factory workers and agricultural laborers.

Traffickers use various techniques to control their victims and keep them enslaved. Some traffickers hold their victims under lock and key. However, the more frequent practice is to use less obvious techniques including:

  • Debt bondage – enormous financial obligations or undefined/increasing debt
  • Isolation from the public - limiting contact with outsiders and making sure that any contact is monitored or superficial in nature
  • Isolation from family members and members of their ethnic and religious community
  • Confiscation of passports, visas and/or identification documents
  • Use or threat of violence toward victims and/or family members
  • The threat of shaming victims by exposing circumstances to family
  • Telling victims they will be imprisoned or deported for immigration violations if they contact authorities
  • Control of the victims' money - e.g., holding their money for "safe-keeping"

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) made trafficking in persons a federal crime. It was enacted to prevent human trafficking overseas, to protect victims and help them rebuild their lives in the United States, and to prosecute traffickers in human beings and impose federal penalties. Prior to enactment of the TVPA, no comprehensive federal law existed to protect victims of trafficking or to prosecute their traffickers. The TVPA has been reauthorized and amended four  times since 2000.