What Is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide – including right here in the United States. It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality. Traffickers might use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations.

Language barriers, fear of their traffickers, and/or fear of law enforcement frequently keep victims from seeking help, making human trafficking a hidden crime.

Traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to lure their victims and force them into labor or commercial sexual exploitation. They look for people who are susceptible for a variety of reasons, including psychological or emotional vulnerability, economic hardship, lack of a social safety net, natural disasters, or political instability. The trauma caused by the traffickers can be so great that many may not identify themselves as victims or ask for help, even in highly public settings.

Many myths and misconceptions exist. Recognizing key indicators of human trafficking is the first step in identifying victims and can help save a life. Not all indicators listed are present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of human trafficking.

The safety of the public as well as the victim is paramount. Do not attempt to confront a suspected trafficker directly or alert a victim to any suspicions. It is up to law enforcement to investigate suspected cases of human trafficking.

What is Forced Labor?

Forced labor occurs when individuals are compelled to provide work or service through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. This crime happens both in the United States and overseas, and victims rarely come forward to seek help because they may be unable to escape their environment, are too vulnerable to seek assistance, potential language barriers may exist, or they do not self-recognize as a victim.

Indicators of forced labor may take place during the worker’s recruitment process to force the acceptance of the job, to deceive the worker into an exploitative job, or to create debt bondage by charging recruitment fees that cannot be paid back reasonably. Once the person is working, an employer may force, defraud, or coerce the victim to do work not agreed to at the time of recruitment. Additionally, force, threats of harm, and other abusive practices may be used to prevent the victim from leaving the job. Threats may be against the victim or the victim's loved ones. A list of indicators of forced labor can be found here.

Online Safety

Predators and human traffickers can gain access to victims online because people are not always aware of how dangerous online environments can be or how to keep themselves safe. While the Internet is a great way to stay in touch with friends and family, predators oftentimes take advantage of this and actively stalk online meeting places such as chat rooms and social media sites to lure their victims.

Below are several safety tips to keep in mind while surfing the web and using social media:

  • Never share pictures of yourself online that you wouldn’t want to be seen by your family, teachers, or a total stranger.

  • Set user profile to private so only real friends can get access. Know who you’re chatting with – a “friend” is not always a friend.

  • Treat people online as you would in person: be polite!

  • Don’t share personal information online such as your full name, school, address or phone number, or user passwords.

  • Don’t meet up in person with anyone you met online.

  • Report suspected abuse to law enforcement or a trusted adult.

Project iGuardian is an initiative by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations focused on keeping children and teens safe from online predators through education and awareness. For more resources such as additional safety tips and how to report suspected cybercrimes, visit https://www.ice.gov/topics/iGuardians.

For more information about online safety and how you can get help visit NetSmartz. You can report suspected child sex trafficking to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).

Image by engin akyurt

Human Trafficking Globally 

The United States, along with Mexico and the Philippines, was ranked one of the world's worst places for human trafficking in 2018. In the US, there is no official number of human trafficking victims, but estimates place it in the hundreds of thousands.

The most human trafficking cases have been reported in California, Texas, and Florida, according to the hotline. Las Vegas is also a hot spot due to the city's culture and high rates of homelessness. But every state in the US has reports of human trafficking.

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