What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons or modern-day slavery, 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, and may involve the use of violence, threats, lies, or debt bondage. Exploitation of a minor for commercial sex is human trafficking, regardless of whether any form of force, fraud, or coercion was used. Human trafficking does not require travel or transportation of the victim across local, state or international borders.

There is no single profile of a trafficking victim. Victims of human trafficking include not only men and women lured into forced labor by the promise of a better life in the United States, but also boys and girls who were born and raised here in California. Trafficking victims come from diverse backgrounds in terms of race, color, national origin, disability, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, education level, and citizenship status, but one characteristic that they usually share is some form of vulnerability. Trafficking victims are often isolated from their families and social networks and, in some cases, are separated from their country of origin, native language, and culture. Many domestic victims of sex trafficking are runaway or homeless youth and/or come from backgrounds of sexual and physical abuse, incest, poverty, or addiction. Traffickers exploit these vulnerabilities, promising the victims love, a good job, or a more stable life.

Definitions of Human Trafficking


As codified in the California Penal Code, anyone who deprives or violates the personal liberty of another with the intent to obtain forced labor or services, procure or sell the individual for commercial sex, or exploit the individual in obscene matter, is guilty of human trafficking. Depriving or violating a person's liberty includes "substantial and sustained restriction of another's liberty accomplished through fraud, deceit, coercion, violence, duress, menace, or threat of unlawful injury to the victim or to another person, under circumstances where the person receiving or apprehending the threat reasonably believes that it is likely that the person making the threat would carry it out.

However, sex trafficking of juveniles is separately defined as causing, inducing, persuading, or attempting to cause, induce or persuade a minor to engage in a commercial sex act.

Forced labor or services include "labor or services that are performed or provided by a person and are obtained or maintained through force, fraud, or coercion, or equivalent conduct that would reasonably overbear the will of the person."

Source: Penal Code Section 236.1


Federal law defines trafficking in persons as "sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age"; or "the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery."

Source: 22 U.S.C Section 7102

International Labour Organization (ILO)

The International Labor Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations, brings together governments, employers and workers representatives of 187 member States , to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes promoting decent work for all women and men. "Human Trafficking" is defined under the "Forced Labour" category and can be understood as work that is performed involuntarily and under the menace of any penalty. It refers to situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by more subtle means such as manipulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities. For more information, visit: www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/lang--en/index.htm.

Human Trafficking in the United States

The United States is widely regarded as a destination country for human trafficking. Federal reports estimate that 14,500 to 17,500 victims are trafficked into the United States annually. This does not include the number of victims who are trafficked within the United States each year.

7,621 cases of human trafficking were reported in the United States in 2016. Source: National Human Trafficking Hotline, https://humantraffickinghotline.org/states.

Human Trafficking in California

As a diverse cultural center and popular destination for immigrants with multiple international borders, California is one of the largest sites of human trafficking in the United States. In 2016, 1,331 cases of human trafficking were reported in California. Of those cases, 1,051 were sex trafficking cases, 147 were labor trafficking cases, 46 involved both labor and sex trafficking, and in 86 cases the type of trafficking was not specified.

Source: National Human trafficking Hotline, https://humantraffickinghotline.org/state/california.

Types of Human Trafficking

Sex Trafficking

Human Trafficking is a crime that involves exploiting a person for labor, services, or commercial sex.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its subsequent reauthorizations define human trafficking as:

  1. Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or
  2. The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. (22 U.S.C. § 7102(9)). See: www.justice.gov/humantrafficking

READ MORE: abc7.com/news/human-trafficking-sex-ring-busted;-13-victims-rescued/2255892/

Labor Trafficking

Labor trafficking involves the recruitment, harboring, or transportation of a person for labor services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. It is modern day slavery. Labor trafficking arises in many situations, including domestic servitude, restaurant work, janitorial work, factory work, migrant 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, and is often perpetrated by traffickers who are the same cultural origin and ethnicity as the victims, which allows the traffickers to use class hierarchy and cultural power to ensure the compliance of their victims. 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 nowhere to run. 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. SEE: www.justice.gov/usao-cdca/human-trafficking#LAB

READ MORE: www.justice.gov/usao-ndoh/pr/parma-man-sentenced-17-years-prison-sexually-exploiting-teen-girl

Domestic Servitude

A form of labor trafficking, domestic servitude often involves women who are forced to live and work in the homes of employers who confiscate their legal documents and prevent them from leaving. Domestic workers can be U.S. citizens, lawfully-admitted foreign nationals, or undocumented immigrants.


Difference between Human Trafficking and Smuggling

According to the United Nations, trafficking in persons and human smuggling are some of the fastest growing areas of international criminal activity. Though they are often confused, human trafficking and smuggling are separate and fundamentally different crimes. Human smuggling is the facilitation, transportation, attempted transportation or illegal entry of a person(s) across an international border, in violation of one or more countries laws, either clandestinely or through deception, such as the use of fraudulent documents. Human smuggling is most often conducted in order to obtain a financial or other material benefit for the smuggler, although financial gain or material benefit are not necessarily elements of the crime. For instance, sometimes people engage in smuggling to reunite their families. Human smuggling is generally with the consent of the person(s) being smuggled, and that person is free to leave upon payment of a prearranged fee. The vast majority of people who are assisted in illegally entering the United States are smuggled, rather than trafficked.

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