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Human Trafficking

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 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 U.S. Attorney's Office has prosecuted cases against women traffickers. Traffickers can be pimps, gang members, diplomats, business owners, labor brokers, and farm, factory, and company owners.

Sex Trafficking 

The U.S. Attorney's Office prosecutes all forms of sex trafficking, whether the victims are minors or adults who have been forced, defrauded, or coerced into engaging in non-consensual sex acts.  Sex trafficking victims are routinely beaten, assaulted, raped, and psychologically and emotionally abused and manipulated by those who work hard to ensure that a culture of fear coerces their victims into compliance.  The U.S. Attorney's Office uses every tool at its disposal to find and prosecute sex traffickers in the Western District.

Labor Trafficking

Labor trafficking involves providing or obtaining the labor or services of a person through the use or threats of force, serious harm, or abuse of law or legal process.  It is modern day slavery.  Labor trafficking arises in many situations, including domestic servitude, restaurant work, janitorial work, factory work, agricultural work, and construction.  It is often marked by unsanitary and overcrowded living and working conditions, nominal or no pay for work that is done, debt bondage, and document servitude.  It occurs in homes and workplaces.  Labor traffickers often tell their victims that they will not be believed if they go to the authorities, that they will be deported from the United States, and that they have to work off a debt.  Traffickers teach their victims to trust no one but the traffickers, so victims are often suspicious of genuine offers to help; they often expect that they will have to give something in return.  The U.S. Attorney's Office works with its law enforcement partners to ferret out and prosecute labor trafficking wherever it occurs in the Western District.

Human Trafficking Indicators

Recognizing key indicators of human trafficking is the first step in identifying victims and can help save a life. Here are some common indicators to help recognize human trafficking. 

  • Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
  • Has a child stopped attending school?
  • Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
  • Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
  • Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
  • Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
  • Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?
  • Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
  • Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to?
  • Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
  • Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?
  • Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?
  • Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?

Not all indicators listed above are present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of human trafficking.

Reporting Suspected Trafficking Activity

Human Trafficking Reporting
Human Trafficking Reporting

Information about the U.S. Attorney's Office's Victim Witness Unit can be found here.

Click here for more information about the Charlotte Metro Human Trafficking Task Force. 

Notable Cases 

U.S. v. Batten & King
U.S. v. Milton Hasty

U.S. v. Dajuan Blair

U.S. v. Thuy Tien Luong

U.S. v.  Simone McIllwain

U.S. v. Xaver Boston

U.S. v. Zerrell Fuentes

U.S. v. Wright & Fuentes

U.S. v. Kenwaniee Tate

Updated March 8, 2024