Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons or modern-day slavery, is a crime that involves the exploitation of a person for the purpose of compelled sex or labor.
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.
Any person under the age of 18 who is engaged in commercial sex acts, regardless of the use of force, fraud, or coercion, is a victim of human trafficking, even if they appear to consent to the commercial sex act.
Although there is no defining characteristic that all human trafficking victims share, traffickers frequently prey on individuals who are poor, vulnerable, living in an unsafe situation, or are in search of a better life.
In the United States, some of the most vulnerable populations include American Indian/Alaska Native communities, lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-questioning individuals, individuals with disabilities, undocumented immigrants, runaway and homeless youth, and low-income individuals. These 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.
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 even strangers.
People often incorrectly assume that all traffickers are males; however, multiple cases in the United States have revealed that women can also be traffickers. Traffickers can be pimps, gang members, diplomats, business owners, labor brokers, and farm, factory, and company owners.
Victims can be found in legal and illegal labor industries, including child care, elder care, the drug trade, massage parlors, 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, construction, health and beauty services, or restaurants. These conditions exist across the United States.
Human trafficking is a complex issue. Providing comprehensive and specialized services that address specific needs of all victims of human trafficking is a priority of OVC.
From July 2019 through June 2020, 227 OVC human trafficking grantees reported serving—
Although the U.S. Department of Justice has long enforced criminal laws against involuntary servitude and slavery, the enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) (Pub. L. 106-386) was a turning point.
The TVPA enhanced the Federal Government’s response to trafficking in the U.S. by:
- Affording increased protections and resources for victims.
- Creating new crime types and enhancing penalties when prosecuting human trafficking offenders.
- Expanding the U.S. Government’s international activities to prevent vulnerable populations from being trafficked.
Further information on what the Federal Government is doing to combat human is available in the following reports:
- Attorney General’s Annual Report to Congress and Assessment of U.S. Government Activities to Combat Trafficking in Persons
- Trafficking in Persons Annual Report (see the Country Narratives, United States of America section)
State and local governments have increasingly built stronger responses against human trafficking affecting their communities. Today, all states have enacted laws to better protect victims of human trafficking and enhance prosecution efforts, while finding ways to adapt to the changing modes of human trafficking. To find your state statute, visit VictimLaw, a comprehensive online database of federal, state, and tribal victims’ rights law.
National Conference of State Legislatures Human Trafficking State Laws
This OVC-funded resource provides information about state laws to combat human trafficking and assist trafficking survivors. The site provides information on legislation that:
- criminalizes trafficking crimes,
- provides survivor protections in court,
- provides services to survivors,
- increases cooperation and coordination between agencies, and
- seeks to prevent human trafficking.
Human trafficking impacts all of us. Everyone can play a role in victim identification and raising community awareness. To get involved and help put an end to human trafficking, you can—
- Learn how to recognize the signs of human trafficking.
- Report a potential human trafficking victim or situation by calling 911. Do not attempt to intervene in a situation yourself.
- Volunteer: contact local OVC-funded service providers or OVC/Bureau of Justice Assistance-funded Task Forces to learn how you can help. Visit the services and task forces map.
- Raise awareness: public education is the key to helping others understand how to effectively identify and respond to the crime of human trafficking. Visit the Faces of Human Trafficking page for more tools to help spread the word, and share the information via Facebook and Twitter.
- Stay informed: explore our website and subscribe to receive News From OVC.
- Visit our human trafficking training page for continuing education opportunities.