What is Human Trafficking?

What is Human Trafficking?

Human Trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some kind of labor or commercial act. Every year, millions of men, women, and children around the world are victims of human trafficking – including right here in Washington. Human trafficking can occur in any community, and victims can be of any age, race, gender, or nationality. Traffickers may use violence, manipulation, or false promises of good-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into the trafficking situation

In the wrong hands, love is a powerful weapon of exploitation. In fact, it is the most commonly used weapon in sex trafficking. Contrary to a common misconception, sex trafficking rarely begins with abduction by a stranger. Instead, sex traffickers prepare their victims by using love-romantic love, friendship, and familial love-to manipulate them into participating in their own exploitation.

Human trafficking is the modern form of slavery. It is the exploitation of men, women and children for forced labor or sex by third parties for profit or gain.

In Human trafficking, there must be force, fraud, or coercion. Action, Means, and Purpose are three tools commonly used to understand human trafficking federal law.

● Force, Fraud, or Coercion

U.S. law defines human trafficking as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person to engage in commercial sexual acts, labor, or services against his or her will. The only exception concerns minors and commercial sex. The enticement of a minor to engage in commercial sex is considered human trafficking regardless of whether force, fraud, or coercion is involved.

● Action-Means-Purpose

The Action-Means-Purpose (AMP) Model can be helpful in understanding federal law. Human trafficking occurs when an offender, often referred to as a trafficker, performs an act and then uses the means of force, fraud, or coercion to coerce the victim into providing commercial sexual acts, labor, or services. At least one element from each column must be present to establish a potential trafficking case.

The AMP model is provided below to assist in understanding the action, means, and purpose.


Fact: Of the sex trafficking cases reported to National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2019, sex trafficking victims were primarily recruited through intimate partners or family members.

● Fact: Sex traffickers work diligently and methodically to gain the trust of their victims, create a level of dependency, and subtly foster the notion that selling sexual services is normal, acceptable, and necessary. Ultimately, successful grooming leads vulnerable people to participate in their own exploitation and abuse, believing that they have freely chosen to do so.

Fact: In October 2000, the United States Congress passed a critical piece of legislation-the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA)-that provided greater protections for victims of trafficking in the United States, made trafficking and related crimes a federal crime, and increased U.S. government efforts to provide services and prevention. This law served as a catalyst for two decades of rapidly expanding federal efforts to eradicate human trafficking and preserve the rights of survivors.

Fact: The crime of human trafficking is based on the exploitation of another human being. People often mistakenly believe that “human trafficking” means that victims must be transported from one place to another to be considered a victim. Human trafficking does not require transportation to be
considered a crime. It is a crime that can be committed against a person who has never left their hometown.

Fact: Getting someone under the age of 18 to engage in commercial sexual activity, regardless of the use of force, fraud, or coercion, is human trafficking under U.S. law.

Fact: Language barriers, fear of traffickers, and/or fear of law enforcement often keep victims from seeking help, making human trafficking a hidden crime.

● Fact: Traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to lure their victims and force them into labor or commercial sexual exploitation. They seek out people who are vulnerable for a variety of reasons, including psychological or emotional weakness, economic hardship, lack of social protection, natural disasters, or political instability. The trauma caused by traffickers can be so great that many do not identify themselves as victims or ask for help, even in public.

Fact: The safety of the public and the victim comes first. Do not attempt to directly approach a suspected trafficker or alert a victim to a suspicion. It is the responsibility of law enforcement to investigate suspected trafficking cases.

Fact: It is a multi-billion-dollar criminal industry that deprives 24.9 million people around the world of their freedom.

Fact: In 2017, human trafficking was classified as a $150.2 billion industry.

Fact: Human trafficking exists in every country, including the United States. It exists nationwide – in cities, suburbs, and rural communities – and it may exist in your own community.

Fact: Victims of human trafficking can be of any age, race, gender, or nationality. They can come from any socio-economic group.

Fact: Sex trafficking exists, but it is not the only form of human trafficking. Forced labor is another form of trafficking; in both cases, people are exploited. Victims can be found in legal and illegal labor sectors, including sweatshops, massage parlors, agriculture, restaurants, hotels, and domestic services.

Fact: Under U.S. federal law, any minor under the age of 18 who is induced to engage in commercial sexual activity is a victim of human trafficking, regardless of whether force, fraud, or coercion is involved.

Fact: Human trafficking is not the same as smuggling. “Trafficking” is based on exploitation and does not require movement across borders. “Smuggling” is based on movement and involves taking a person across a country’s border with their consent in violation of immigration laws. Although human smuggling is distinctly different from human trafficking, human smuggling can become human trafficking if the smuggler uses force, fraud, or coercion to hold people against their will for labor or sexual exploitation. Under federal law, any minor who is forced into commercial sex is a victim of human trafficking.

Fact: Human trafficking is often a hidden crime. Victims may be afraid to come forward and seek help; they may be coerced or forced by threats or violence; they may fear retaliation from traffickers, including danger to their families; and they may not possess or have control over their identification

Fact: In 2017, Polaris processed 8,759 human trafficking cases reported to the Polaris-operated National Human Trafficking Hotline and BeFree Textline. These cases involved 10,615 individual victims, nearly 5,000 potential traffickers, and 1,698 trafficking businesses. Human trafficking is notoriously
underreported. As shocking as these numbers are, they likely represent only a tiny fraction of the real problem.

Fact: Humans are reusable commodities that can be exploited by traffickers again and again.


Myth: Only women and girls can be victims and survivors of sex trafficking

Myth: All commercial sex is human trafficking.

Myth: People who are trafficked always want help getting out

Myth: Most Traffickers are what the movies show you

Myth: All traffickers are Black men

Myth: Human trafficking only refers to forced prostitution 

Myth: Only Women are trafficked

Myth: Trafficking only happens in other countries, not in the United States

Myth: I can’t do anything about Human trafficking, I’m just one person

Myth: Human trafficking engages with willing participants LGBTQ one (later)

Myth: Human trafficking always involves kidnapping and/or violent force

Myth: All Human trafficking is Sex trafficking

Myth: Human trafficking doesn’t affect me

Myth: Human trafficking is a foreign problem, with only foreign-born victims

Myth:  In Human trafficking, movement is required in order for trafficking to occur


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


Some of the indicators are:

● Abuse of vulnerability
● Deception
● Restriction of freedom of movement
● Isolation
● Physical and sexual violence
● Intimidation and threats
●  Withholding of identity documents
● Withholding of wages
● Debt bondage
● Abusive working and living conditions
● Excessive unpaid overtime


Some of the indicators are:

● Does the person seem disconnected from their family, friends, community, organizations, or places of worship?
● Has a child stopped attending school?
● Did the person have a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
● Has a youth been involved in commercial sexual activity?
● 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 anxious, fearful, or submissive?
● Does the person show signs of being denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
● Is the person often in the company of someone to whom they are submissive? Or someone who
● seems to control the situation, such as where they go or who they talk to?
● Does the person seem to receive instructions about what to say?
● Is the person live in inappropriate circumstances?
● Does the person lack personal belongings and appear not to be living in a stable living situation?
● Can the person move around freely? Can the person leave his or her residence freely? Are there any inappropriate security measures?

Grooming, Exploitation, and Control

Targeting the Victim

● Traffickers look for people who have emotional or material needs that are not being met, such as teenagers who lack self-confidence or young adults who write online about a bad breakup.

Gaining Trust

● Traffickers get to know their victims and use what they learn to make it seem like they are the perfect match, the answer to their dreams, the person they can count on. They listen, offer support, and bide their time.

Meeting Needs

● Once traffickers know what victims want or need, they give it to them – or at least dangle it before their eyes – and let them taste what it feels like to be loved, to be safe, or to be cared for.


● As the relationship grows, the trafficker slowly cuts the victim off from friends and loved ones, reinforcing the sense of dependence.


● This might start slowly, asking the victim to have sex for money, “just this once” or “to help me”. Over time, this becomes normalized so that the victim thinks they are making the decision on their own

Maintaining Control

● In most cases, the trafficker will do anything to maintain control over the victim.
● Traffickers often manipulate their victims into depending on traffickers to do things that any other person would have no problem doing themselves.
These indicators include:
     ◘ Not being able to control one’s own identification (ID or passport).
     ◘ Not allowed or able to speak for themselves and refuses to make eye contact
     ◘ Has few personal belongings, wears the same clothes over and over again, or carries his or her belongings in a garbage bag
     ◘ Pays mostly in cash; cannot dispose of their own money or has no financial records or bank account

Workplace Conditions

Human trafficking encompasses both labor and sex trafficking, and the indicators within the workplace can look like the following:

● Recruited with false promises as to the nature and conditions of his or her work.
● Unpaid or paid very little by cash tips, unofficially.
● Has a pimp or manager or someone who will not leave their side
● Cannot leave freely or come and go as he or she pleases
● Works long and/or unusual hours
● Has large debts that cannot be paid off
● Is under 18 years of age and performs sexual acts in exchange for something of value
● Exchanges commercial sexual acts for needs such as shelter, food, or other means of survival

Mental and Physical Health

How do the effects of human trafficking exhibit themselves on a victim? Indicators can include the following:

● Anxious, fearful, depressed, submissive, tense, nervous, or paranoid
● Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture, such as bruises, cuts, etc.
● Has branding scars such as burns or tattoos with crowns or money symbols
● No access to medical care or unable to seek medical care without supervision
● Appears malnourished or extremely emaciated
● Appears to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol
● Is overly attached to a person or has a person who is overly attached to him or her
● Needs permission or direct to make simple decisions, such as going to the bathroom
● Unusually anxious or fearful around law enforcement or when law enforcement is mentioned

* For more information on red flags and indicators please refer to our link.

Who to call or contact to report Human Trafficking

To report suspected Human Trafficking to Federal law enforcement:


To get help from the National Human Trafficking Hotline:


or text HELP or INFO to

BeFree (233733)

Para reportar un posible caso de trata de personas:


Obtenga ayuda de la Línea Directa Nacional de Trata de Personas:


o enviando un mensaje de texto con HELP o INFO to

BeFree (233733)

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