What is Human Trafficking?
Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons, is a crime that involves compelling or coercing a person to provide labor or services, or to engage in commercial sex acts. The coercion can be subtle or overt, physical or psychological. Exploitation of a minor for commercial sex is human trafficking, regardless of whether any form of force, fraud, or coercion was used.
There is no single profile of a trafficking victim. Victims of human trafficking can be anyone—regardless of race, color, national origin, disability, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, education level, or citizenship status. But as is the case in many crimes of exploitation and abuse, human traffickers often prey upon members of marginalized communities and other vulnerable individuals, including children in the child welfare system or children in the child welfare system or children who have been involved in the juvenile justice system; runaway and homeless youth; unaccompanied children; persons who do not have lawful immigration status in the United States; Black people and other people of color; American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and other indigenous peoples of North America; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals; migrant laborers; persons with disabilities; and individuals with substance use disorder.
Although there is no defining characteristic that all human trafficking victims share, traffickers around the world frequently prey on individuals whose vulnerabilities, including poverty, limited English proficiency, or lack of lawful immigration status, are exacerbated by lack of stable, safe housing, and limited economic and educational opportunities. Trafficking victims are deceived by false promises of love, a good job, or a stable life and are lured or forced into situations where they are made to work under deplorable conditions with little or no pay. In the United States, trafficking victims can be American or foreign citizens.
Victims can be found in legal and illegal labor industries, including child care, elder care, the drug trade, massage parlors, nail and hair salons, restaurants, hotels, factories, and farms. In some cases, victims are hidden behind doors in domestic servitude in a home. Others are in plain view, interact with people on a daily basis, and are forced to work under extreme circumstances in exotic dance clubs, factories, or restaurants. Victims can be exploited for commercial sex in numerous contexts, including on the street, in illicit massage parlors, cantinas, brothels, or through escort services and online advertising. Trafficking situations can be found across the United States.
Just as there is no one type of trafficking victim, perpetrators of this crime also vary. Traffickers can be foreign nationals or U.S. citizens, family members, partners, acquaintances, and strangers. They can act alone or as part of an organized criminal enterprise. People often incorrectly assume that all traffickers are males; however, the United States has prosecuted cases against women traffickers. Traffickers can be pimps, gang members, diplomats, business owners, labor brokers, and farm, factory, and company owners.
Learn about what the Department of Justice is doing to combat human trafficking.