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Recognizing a Human Trafficking Victim or a Perpetrator

Course Number: 600

Introduction: What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is intertwined with many names, not only child sex trafficking but other forms as well.10,13,15These include bonded labor, debt bondage, involuntary domestic servitude,31forced child labor, child soldiers, forced marriage, labor trade and even organ trafficking. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)26 defines human trafficking as “the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or a commercial sex act.” The DHS states that the perpetrators may use violence, force, fraud or coercion to obtain compliance. Simply stated, it is the exploiting of others for profit or benefit. Often there is a false promise of a well-paying job or a romantic relationship to lure victims into trafficking situations. Sex trafficking is more profitable than the sale of drugs or illegal arms.21 Sex trafficking perpetrators are reported to make approximately $120,000 or more off one victim yearly and most perpetrators have many victims, thereby increasing their overall profit dramatically. A trafficking victim may be sold many times-drugs and arms are only sold once. However, traffickers may make their victims dependent upon them for the supply of their drugs and their addiction. This keeps them motivated to continue in the work designated by the trafficker. Most victims work for approximately seven years and then they are either replaced by new victims or many die from maltreatment and disease. Human trafficking is often confused with smuggling, which involves the consensual but illegal transportation of a human across a national border. Human trafficking is also not consensual sex, but the exploitation of a person through force, fraud or coercion.16,21 It should also be stated that a minor cannot consent to sex and the adult perpetrator is involved in child sex/and abuse. The age of consent varies within the United States (within a state), but a minor (those under 18 years of age) cannot consent to commercial sex-there are no exceptions. Additionally, if the victim of sex trafficking is a minor, the three means of force, fraud and coercion do not need to be present or proven. It is deemed automatic human trafficking.

Trafficking of humans is a $150 multibillion-dollar global industry that continues to escalate worldwide. Human trafficking is the second most profitable industry after drug trafficking.13,30 However, the use of individuals has increased in recent years and is intertwined with the sale of drugs and it has become equally profitable. Legislation concerning child abuse has been in place for some time and has expanded to include human trafficking since many that are involved as victims of human trafficking are under age.1-3,1-3,19.

Human trafficking is a human rights violation involving a large segment of women and/or children. This number includes males who are trafficking victims usually involved in labor work, fishing, factory work and sex trafficking. There is a large age span with all victims involved ranging from very young to very old. Human trafficking is being reported worldwide, and the suggested numbers within the United States have increased yearly. The National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888) defines human trafficking as the business of stealing freedom for profit; thereby, denying freedom to 40.3 million people worldwide.9,53 With the current numbers of individuals entering the United States, this total number is somewhat unknown at present since people/victims are not reported. In 2021-2022, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, run by Polaris, worked a total of 42,887 likely trafficking victims with the majority reporting sex trafficking.17,26,53 Since the Trafficking Hotline is involved with only reported cases, they state it is only the tip of the iceberg since most victims are not reported and continue to be used for many years. Other reports suggest that on any given day over 300,000 children are subjected to trafficking in various forms.19,33,34 Trafficking victims are reluctant to report their status because of threats used against them and their family. The victim may not even testify against the perpetrator out of extreme fear. In some cases, trauma bonding may occur-similar to the Stockholm Syndrome and the victim may believe there is a relationship with the trafficker. The numbers of victims are far higher than those that are successfully reported and prosecuted. Victims do not in most cases identify as a “victim” which makes the realistic number of cases difficult to ascertain.

According to current data and statistics, the United States is a prime area for trafficking in all forms with both of our borders, Canada and Mexico, as prime locations where we see an influx of victims brought into the United States from various parts of the world. This number is expected to increase dramatically because of the 2021 influx of immigrants in the southern border through Mexico. Currently, in 2024,The U.S. Border Patrol and Office of Field Operations report over 1,733,496 encounters have been recorded during 2024 (March 2024), 3,201,144 in 2023, 2,766,582 in 2022 and 1,956,519 in 2021. The numbers have continued to escalate with a total of over 10 million migrants in the last three years. These are the numbers we know, but there are many “gotaways” that we do not know. The Border Control also reports that in 2023/2024, over 244 have been on the terrorist watch list.

In the past years, six out of 10 victims are from another country and have crossed over at least one international border.6 Human trafficking is an escalating problem in the UK and in Europe as a whole.11. In general, disaster locations and displacement of individuals promotes opportunity for trafficking. Nepal is an example cited where there has been an increase in reported trafficking after the recent earthquakes because of displaced children and adults.4. Although the problem with trafficking is an ongoing global issue, the displacement of individuals after these types of disasters increases human trafficking and creates an opportunity for the perpetrators to maximize exploitation. Displaced girls are taken from their homes and shipped to other areas for sex-trade. Women are especially vulnerable when displacement occurs; so are the elderly, marginalized caste members, LGBTQ populations, widows and those with disabilities.3,18,28,32