Legal Information: Federal


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May 6, 2013

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking is the process by which one person (the “trafficker”) recruits another person (“the victim”) for the purposes of exploiting that person.  The victim is generally controlled and held captive by the trafficker against his/her will.  Traffickers use or threaten to use force, coercion, abduction, fraud, or deception to bring their victims under their control.  Traffickers also take advantage of the vulnerable social or economic status of their victims to keep power over them.

Trafficking is basically a modern-day form of slavery.  Generally, human trafficking victims are subjected to sexual exploitation, known as sex trafficking, or forced labor known as labor trafficking.*  Sexual exploitation could include acts such as forced pornography, mail-order bride selling, or prostitution.  Forced labor generally comes in two forms:

  • Bonded labor (also known as debt bondage): This is when the victim (trafficked person) is forced to work indefinitely (without any reasonable limits on services or time) to pay off the person who smuggled her into the United States.  Generally, the victim has no way to know when his/her debt is going to be paid off or how much his/her debt has been reduced by the work s/he has already performed.**  The value of his/her work generally ends up being greater than the original amount of money "borrowed."***
  • Involuntary servitude/slavery: This is when victims are forced to work against their will, under the threat of violence or some other form of punishment.  Traffickers could threaten to physically harm to the victim or the victim’s family and loved ones, but may also threaten to report the victim to the police (for his/her immigration status, prostitution, etc.) if s/he does not continue to work for the trafficker.  The threats to report the victim to the police are known as “abuse of the legal process.”**  Forms of forced labor can include domestic servitude (i.e., being a housekeeper); agricultural labor; sweatshop factory labor; janitorial, food service and other service industry labor; and begging.***

* This information was adapted from the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking
** 22 USC § 7102(8)
*** National Human Trafficking Resource Center Fact Sheet