Human trafficking in the United States

Human trafficking is the modern form of slavery, with illegal smuggling and trading of people, for forced labor or sexual exploitation.

Trafficking is officially defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by means of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, or abuse of power of a position of vulnerability for the purpose of exploitation. Human trafficking is not synonymous with forced migration or smuggling.

In the U.S., human trafficking tends to occur around international travel-hubs with large immigrant populations, notably California and Texas. The U.S. Justice Department estimates that 14,500–17,500 people are trafficked into the country every year. Those being trafficked include young children, teenagers, men and women and can be domestic citizens or foreign nationals. According to the Department of State's statistics from 2000, there are approximately 244,000 American children and youth that are at risk for sex trafficking each year. Of these children and youth, 38,600 were originally runaways.

Under federal law (18 USC § 1589), it is a crime to make people work by use of force, coercion or fear.


According to the Department of State 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report, the United States is a Tier 1 country for trafficking. Tier 1 means that the government is in compliance with the U.S. government's minimum standards of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 to eliminate trafficking.[1] The minimum standards as listed in section 108 of the legislation are:

(1) The government of the country should prohibit severe forms of trafficking in persons and punish acts of such trafficking.
(2) For the knowing commission of any act of sex trafficking involving force, fraud, coercion, or in which the victim of sex trafficking is a child incapable of giving meaningful consent, or of trafficking which includes rape or kidnapping or which causes a death, the government of the country should prescribe punishment commensurate with that for grave crimes, such as forcible sexual assault.
(3) For the knowing commission of any act of a severe form of trafficking in persons, the government of the country should prescribe punishment that is sufficiently stringent to deter and that adequately reflects the heinous nature of the offense.
(4) The government of the country should make serious and sustained efforts to eliminate severe forms of trafficking in persons.[2][3]

The U.S. is working to eliminate human trafficking in the U.S. and worldwide. Each year, the Department of State releases data compiled on the state of human trafficking in many different countries including the U.S. in accordance with the Trafficking Victim Protection Act of 2000's standards [see below].[2] In addition, it also releases data on trafficking cases under federal prosecution and estimates of those trafficked; however, the report also cautions that the data may not be representative of the number of individuals actually trafficked due to both the lack of cohesion between many states and agencies battling human trafficking and the inability to account for undiscovered victims.[4] Below is a compilation of data from a variety of U.S. agencies and the United Nations.

Attorney General

According to the Attorney General's 2001 report, an estimated 14,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year, although, again because trafficking is illegal, accurate statistics are difficult to compile.[5]

2011 Department of Justice report

The findings of the U.S. Department of Justice's 2011 report, “Characteristics of Suspected Human Trafficking Incidents, 2008-2010,” include:

  1. From 2008 to 2010, Federal anti-trafficking task forces opened 2,515 suspected cases of human trafficking.
  2. 82% of suspected incidents were classified as sex trafficking and nearly half of these involved victims under the age of 18.
  3. Approximately 10% of the incidents were classified as labor trafficking.
  4. 83% of victims in confirmed sex-trafficking incidents were identified as U.S. citizens, while most confirmed labor-trafficking victims were identified as undocumented immigrants (67%) or legal immigrants (28%).
  5. 25% of the confirmed victims received a "T visa," part of a federal program designed to aid victims of trafficking.

While the findings represent the government’s best estimate, the authors caution that “the data described in this report reflect the information that was available to, and entered by, these state and local law enforcement agencies,” and such data systems are still being established and are likely not recording all incidents.[6]

2011 Department of State report

According to the Department of State, the U.S. was identified as a Tier 1 country with unspecified federal agencies charging 181 individuals with trafficking other humans and obtaining 141 convictions in 103 human trafficking prosecutions. Of the prosecutions reported by the Department of State, 32 were labor trafficking cases and 71 were sex trafficking cases.[7]

Immigration and Customs Enforcement

During 2009, ICE initiated 566 cases. These investigations led to 388 criminal arrests, more than double the number of arrests from the previous fiscal year, resulting in 148 indictments and 165 convictions.[8]

Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center

The Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center is an inter-agency intelligence center that gathers information on illicit travel—including that of trafficking. The center also coordinates with foreign agencies and diplomats to monitor and fight trafficking on an international basis. With the enactment of TVPRA 2008, the HSTC was also charged with the responsibility of compiling a comprehensive inter-agency database on persons identified as victims of human trafficking.[8]


Geographic distribution of forced laborers

According to the 2011 Department of State report, victims are largely from Thailand, India, Mexico, Philippines, Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador, and the Dominican Republic, though U.S. citizens have also been victims of human trafficking.[7] Relevant to people being trafficked from other countries, "[v]ulnerabilities are increasingly found in visa programs for legally documented students and temporary workers who typically fill labor needs in the hospitality, landscaping, construction, food service, and agricultural industries."[9]

Human trafficking occurred consistently in high-population areas that serve as hubs for international travel and that have large immigrant populations. In the study, higher numbers of reported cases were found in California, New York, Texas, and Florida. This is consistent with the U.S. Department of Justice report that the largest concentrations of survivors of human trafficking were located in California, Oklahoma, New York, and Texas.[10] According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) roughly 979,000 of the human trafficking cases reported by state are from California, making it the most affected area in the United States.[11]


According to a 2007 Washington Post expose entitled "Human Trafficking Evokes Outrage, Little Evidence", human trafficking into the United States is essentially nonexistent.[12]

However, there are more victims than those who have applied for and been granted certification. First, certification requires that the victim be willing to cooperate with a police investigation. Following a police raid, some victims just want to go home, some victims don’t want to cooperate with police and are deported, and some victims are afraid to testify against vicious traffickers. The application for certification requires support from law enforcement. If the victim is not seen as useful for a case, or if the police don't want to pursue a case, they have no support to stay in the U.S. and will not be counted as victims of trafficking.

Nevertheless, the number of identified victims (or convicted traffickers) is far less than the official estimate (by the U.S. State Department) that as many 14,500–17,500 individuals are trafficked into the United States every year.[13] A recent analysis by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics showed a gap between the claimed number of victims and the number of confirmed cases of victimization.[14]

A gap between the alleged number of victims and the number of confirmed cases also characterizes the situation worldwide. The U.S. Department of State recently reported that 0.4 percent of the estimated victims of trafficking internationally had been officially identified.[15] The State Department report provided no source for the number of either estimated or identified victims. Some critics, like Markon in the Washington Post, note that all such estimates are deeply flawed.[16]


Research conducted by University of California at Berkeley on behalf of the anti-trafficking organization Free the Slaves found that about 46% of people in slavery in the United States are forced into prostitution. The U.S. Department of Justice prosecuted 360 defendants for human trafficking from 2001 to 2007 and gained 238 convictions.[17]

From January 2007 through September 2008, there were 1,229 alleged cases of human trafficking nationally; 1,018 of them, nearly 83 percent, were sex trafficking cases. Sex trafficking has a close relationship with migrant smuggling operations headed by Mexican, Eastern European, and Asian crime organizations.[18] Domestic servitude claims 27% of people in slavery in the U.S., agriculture 10%, and other occupations 17%.[10][19]

Sex trafficking

Louise Slaughter testifies at a Ways & Means Human Resources Subcommittee hearing on October 23, 2013. Louise testified in strong support of a bill she has co-sponsored with Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) that address the high rate of children in foster care being recruited into sex trafficking within the United States. (10445204615)

It is estimated that between 240,000 and 325,000 children are at risk for sexual exploitation each year. Children who are considered runaways are at particular risk of prostitution or of being trafficked into the sex industry. Of the 1,682,900 children who were considered runaways for a period of time in 1999, 71% were considered at risk for prostitution.[17]

Commercial sexual exploitation of children

In 2003, 1,400 minors were arrested for prostitution, 14% of whom were younger than 14 years old. A study conducted by the International Labor Union indicated that boys are at a higher risk of being trafficked into agricultural work, the drug trade, and petty crime. Girls were at a higher risk of being forced into the sex industry and domestic work. In 2004, the Department of Labor found 1,087 minors employed in situations that violated hazardous occupation standards. The same year, 5,480 children were employed violating child labor laws. Due to the secretive nature of trafficking, it is difficult to piece together an accurate picture of how widespread the problem is.[17]

In 2001, the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work released a study on CSEC conducted in 17 cities across the United States. While they did not interview any of the adolescent subjects of the inquiry, they estimated through secondary response that as many as 300,000 American youth may be at risk of commercial sexual exploitation at any time.[20] The Center for Court Innovation in New York City had used Respondent Driven Sampling (RDS), Social Network Analysis, capture/recapture, and Markov based probability estimates in 2008 to generate a prevalence estimate for New York City alone and found that there were approximately 3800 children that were identified as commercial sexual exploitation victims. Researchers said this was an underestimate of the actual number as isolated sub-groups outside their sampling methodology exist and could not be estimated.[21] An article by the Village Voice that reviewed arrest records in 37 large US cities over 10 years found only 827 cases a year had been reported to police departments.[22]

Especially vulnerable are homeless and runaways. The National Runaway Switchboard said in 2009 that one-third of runaway youths in America will be lured into prostitution within 48 hours on the streets.[23] This view of adolescent prostitution in the United States as primarily driven by pimp-exploiters and other "sex traffickers" was challenged by SNRG-NYC in their 2008 New York City study which interviewed over 300 under-age prostitutes and found that only 10% reported having pimps. A 2012 study done in Atlantic City, New Jersey, by the same group incorporated an extended qualitative ethnographic component that looked specifically at the relationship between pimps and adolescents engaged with street based sex markets.[24][25] This study found the percentage of adolescents who had pimps to be only 14% and that those relationships were typically far more complex, mutual, and companionate than has been reported by social service providers, not-for-profits, and much of the news media.[26]

The New York State Office of Children and Family Services estimated in 2007 that New York City is home to more than 2,000 sexually exploited children under 18. At least 85 percent of these youths statewide have had some contact with the child welfare system, mostly through abuse or neglect proceedings. In New York City, 75 percent have been in foster care.[27] Mishi Faruqee, who is in charge of juvenile justice issues for the Correctional Association of New York, questioned the reliability of the estimate. “We believe that number is really an undercount."[28] This is confirmed by SNRG-NYC's New York City population estimate of 2008 which was 3,946.

Latino brothels

Brothels catering exclusively to Latino males, referred to as "Latino Residential Brothels", are a major vehicle for sex trafficking, with the victims being almost exclusively women and children from Latin America.[29][30][31] Trafficking of U.S. citizens within the U.S. occurs as well. They typically own informal underground businesses in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

Super Bowls

Exterior of MetLife Stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII

Law authorities have led sting operations in connection with Super Bowl games. During the Super Bowl XLVIII, authorities arrested 45 pimps and rescued 25 child victims of human trafficking. During Super Bowl XLIX, authorities led a sting operation called National Day of Johns and arrested almost 600 people and rescued 68 victims.[32]

Labor trafficking

According to the National Human Rights Center in Berkeley, California, there are currently about 10,000 forced laborers in the U.S., around one-third of whom are domestic servants and some portion of whom are children. In reality, this number could be far higher due to the difficulty in getting exact numbers of victims, due to the secretive nature of human trafficking. The U.S. government only keeps a count of survivors, defined as victims of severe instances of human trafficking, who have been assisted by the government in acquiring immigration benefits.[10] Research at San Diego State University estimates that there are 2.4 million victims of human trafficking among illegal Mexican immigrants.[33] On the other hand, it could be far lower—and possibly approach zero—since there are virtually no arrests for this. Research by the Urban Institute says that law enforcement agencies do not prioritize labor trafficking cases, were reluctant to help victims obtain authorization to legally remain in the United States, and felt there was not enough evidence to corroborate victim statements.[34]

In 2014, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center reported 990 cases of forced labor trafficking in the US, including 172 which also involved sex trafficking. The most common types of labor trafficking included domestic work, traveling sales crews, agriculture/farms, restaurant/food service, health & beauty services, begging, retail, landscaping, hospitality, construction, carnivals, elder care, forestry, manufacturing, and housekeeping.[35]


In the agriculture sector, the most common victims of trafficking are U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, undocumented immigrants, and foreign nationals with temporary H-2A visas.[36] Due to the nature of agricultural work as being seasonal and transient, the ability of employers to exploit these workers is high. Such exploitation may take the form of threats of violence and playing on vulnerabilities (i.e. immigration status). In some cases, workers are held in a state of perpetual debt to the crew leaders who impose mandatory transportation, housing and communication fees upon the workers which are high in relation to pay received, therefore further indebting the worker. Crew leaders may also provide workers with H-2A visas and transportation to the place of work from a home country.

In 2010, the company Global Horizons was indicted on charges of trafficking more than 400 Thai workers through a program of bonded labor. Charges were ultimately dropped in 2012.[37]

Domestic labor

Domestic servitude is the forced employment of someone as a maid or nanny, and victims are often migrant women who come from low-wage communities in their home countries.[38] Domestic workers perform duties such as cleaning, cooking and childcare in their employers home. Domestic workers are commonly US citizens, undocumented workers or foreign nationals most commonly holding one of the following visa types: A-3, G-5,NATO-7 or B-1[39] The most common victims of this type of trafficking are women. Similar means of control to Agricultural Work are common. Additionally, a lack of legislation regarding the duties and protection of these workers facilitates their exploitation. Employers commonly use the workers lack of knowledge of the language or legal system as a means of control and intimidation. This is also commonly paired with various forms of abuse and/or passport revocation. Many domestic workers are brought to the United States on a promise of a better life or an education.[40] Traffickers are usually married couples from the same country of origin as the trafficked person,[41] and are usually not involved in organized criminal networks,[42] making it more difficult to identify instances of this type of trafficking. Perpetrators of domestic servitude are often well-respected members of their communities and lead otherwise normal lives.[42] Areas with large middle-class and upper-middle-class populations are commonly the destinations of this type of trafficking.[38]

The Associated Press reports, based on interviews in California and Egypt, that trafficking of children for domestic labor in the U.S. includes an extension of an illegal but common practice in Africa. Families in remote villages send their daughters to work in cities for extra money and the opportunity to escape a dead-end life. Some girls work for free on the understanding that they at least will be better fed in the home of their employer. This custom has led to the spread of trafficking, as well-to-do Africans accustomed to employing children immigrate into the U.S.[43]

Legally employed domestic workers are distinct from illegally employed domestic servants. While legally employed domestic house workers are fairly compensated for their work in accordance with national wage laws, domestic servants are typically forced to work extremely long hours for little to no monetary compensation, and psychological and physical means are employed to limit their mobility and freedom.[38] In addition, deportation threats are often used to discourage internationally trafficked persons from seeking help.[38]

Traveling sales crew

Traveling sales crews have the highest rate of calls to human trafficking hotlines after domestic labor (counting from January 2008 to February 2015). The mobile nature makes it easier for traffickers to control their victims' sleeping arrangements and food and to alienate them from outside contact. Traffickers may withhold food or threaten to abandon their victims in unfamiliar locations without money if they do not comply. Unlike other professions, members of traveling sales crews are considered independent contractors even if they do not have any autonomy in their life outside of work. As independent contractors, they are not overseen by several laws meant to prevent abuse, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Victims often incur debt from their traffickers, and enter into a form of debt slavery.[44]

Malinda’s Traveling Sales Crew Protection Act
Wisconsin state senator Jon Erpenbach

Malinda’s Traveling Sales Crew Protection Act[45] is a Wisconsin law that gives traveling sales crew members similar employment rights as part-time workers in Wisconsin are currently guaranteed by state law. It also requires all crews to register with the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection before going door to door in state communities. By registering members of the crew, alerts for members with outstanding warrants in other states can be identified and criminals detained.[46] It is the only law in the United States that regulates traveling sales crews.[44] Wisconsin governor James E. Doyle says the intent of the law is to "stop companies from putting workers in dangerous and unfair conditions". The bill was passed in a form that applies only to sales workers who travel in groups of two or more.[47] It was authored by Jon Erpenbach.[46] Southwestern Advantage lobbied against the bill, argueing that their independent contractor business model nurtured the entrepreneurial spirit.[48][49] During the hearings, former Southwestern student dealers testified on both sides of the issue.[50]

Structural factors


Poverty can lead to increased trafficking in many different ways. Poverty affects the notion of individual choice and often drives families to make decisions out of desperation and lack of education.[51] Poverty, in some countries, may influence parents to send their children to work in another urban country with a more stable economy, such as the U.S., without the knowledge that the child is then forced into slave labor or prostitution. Furthermore, once this kidnapping and trafficking of the child occurs, the victim often accepts their situation and limits efforts to escape their imprisonment. Oftentimes, they wind up alone in a country where they do not speak the language, making it difficult to seek aid.[52] In addition, victims often accept their positions because they feel that this is the only way that they may send some remittances to their family and their enslaved situations may in some cases still be better than their original impoverished and desperate state.[51]


The rate of human trafficking has directly increased in correlation with globalization.[53] Globalization has increased cross-border trade and the demand for cheap labor; however, migration policies of the U.S. and other countries have not changed with the level of demand for cheap labor, thus forcing people illegally to immigrate.[51] Illegal immigration then creates ideal conditions for organized criminal operations to form trafficking circles.[51] With increased trade of foreign goods to rural areas, import competition in the rural markets has also forced people in poor areas to migrate to industrialized economies for better livelihoods. Their desperate positions often make them subject to exploitation and trafficking into different forms of forced labor to support that economy.[51] Lastly, the technological advances that go hand in hand with globalization have facilitated the ease with which organized crime circles may conduct trafficking operations.[51]


Throughout the world, there are 40 to 42 million prostitutes. Out of these, three-quarters are of the ages of 13 to 25 and 80% are female. And 80% of these prostitutes were forced as children into this business and want to escape[54] Some feminists, such as Carole Pateman, believe that exploitation is in both prostitution and sex trafficking.[55] They believe that even if the women agreed to be a sex worker in a foreign country that the worker was still trafficked because of the preceding conditions that lead her to believe that sex work was the only viable work option.[55] Other feminists such as Kamala Kempadoo, on the other hand, believe that prostitution is a form of labor just like any other migrant labor; however, due to the criminalization of prostitution, prostitutes are then subject to coercion and exploitation and subsequent trafficking.[56] In the Usa, each year 80,000 women are arrested and there are so many that still have not been caught. Current debates about modifications to Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 policy are based about these two arguments. In providing aid for victims of sex trafficking the government must take a stand on whether or not they believe the sex industry and sex trafficking are inherently linked.[51] These people involved in prostitution have an 80% higher chance of sexually transmitted infections and many never can afford to seek treatment. This results in serious infections, life long diseases, and sometimes even death.[57]

Fear of government corruption

Even though the U.S. offers protection for trafficking victims, few victims seek the government's aid due to fear of corruption, fear of deportation, or fear of reprisals with their family.[58] Victims of trafficking may be citizens of countries with corrupt governments that actually aid trafficking.[58] Where victims' home countries lack reliable police systems, trafficking victims are hesitant to reach out to the law for aid.

Fear of deportation

In addition, because the trafficked victims may be in the U.S. illegally, they fear deportation back to their home countries.[56] Deportation can often leave trafficked victims at the mercy of their traffickers once again or it may cause harm to their families through either punishment by the traffickers or a loss of remittances that the traffickers had been sending to the family.[56]

Anti-trafficking laws and policies

Laws against trafficking exist at the federal and community levels. Over half of the states now criminalize human trafficking, though the penalties are not as tough as under the federal laws. Related federal and state efforts focus on regulating the tourism industry to prevent the facilitation of sex tourism and regulate international marriage brokers to ensure criminal background checks and information on how to get help are given to the potential brides.

Policy of the federal government

The federal government has taken a firm stance against human trafficking both within its borders and beyond. Domestically, human trafficking is a federal crime under Title 18 of the United States Code. Section 1584 makes it a crime to force a person to work against her or his will, or to sell a person into a condition of involuntary servitude.

Section 1581 similarly makes it illegal to force a person to work through "debt servitude". Human trafficking as it relates to involuntary servitude and slavery is prohibited by the 13th Amendment. Federal laws on human trafficking are enforced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Marshal Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and Criminal Section, and other federal agencies.

Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act

The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 allowed for greater statutory maximum sentences for traffickers, provided resources for protection of and assistance for victims of trafficking, and created avenues for interagency cooperation. It also allows many trafficking victims to remain in the U.S. and apply for permanent residency under a T-1 Visa.[59] Previously, trafficked individuals who were often in the country illegally were treated as criminals. According to the section on Severe Forms of Trafficking in Persons, the definition extends to include any "commercial sex act ... in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age".[60] This means that any minor engaged in prostitution is a victim of human trafficking, regardless of citizenship or whether or not movement has taken place.[61]

The law defines trafficking as "the prohibition against any individual who provides or obtains labor or services for peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or forced labor." The law distinguishes trafficking, where victims are coerced into entering the U.S., from smuggling, where migrants enter the country without authorization.[62] The act also attempted to encourage efforts to prevent human trafficking internationally, by creating annual country reports on trafficking and tying financial non-humanitarian assistance to foreign countries to real efforts in addressing human trafficking. The benefits of the law, however, are dependent on the survivor's cooperation with prosecuting the perpetrators. This can be complicated if the victim fears retribution from their trafficker or has a fear of authority that remains from their country of origin.[10]

The original TVPA of 2000 has been reauthorized three times, the most recent being the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008. These reauthorizations have clarified definitions of trafficking and forced labor in order both to aid in prosecution of traffickers and to aid the victims of trafficking. The reauthorization versions have also required the federal government to terminate all contracts with overseas contractors involved in human trafficking or forced labor. Extraterritoriality jurisdiction was also extended to cover all U.S. nationals and permanent residents who are living overseas.[63]

In "October 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) (Public Law 106-386) was enacted. Prior to that, no comprehensive Federal law existed to protect victims of trafficking or to prosecute their traffickers".[8] In 2003, the Bush Administration authorized more than $200 million to combat human trafficking through the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003 (TVPRA). TVPRA renews the U.S. government's commitment to identify and assist victims exploited through labor and sex trafficking in the U.S. The U.S. has also set up programs to help those who have been victims. The government can help victims, once identified, by stabilizing their immigrant status. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) enables victims who are non-U.S. citizens to receive federally funded benefits and services to the same extent as a refugee; as well, U.S. citizens who are victims are eligible for many benefits.

Human trafficking hotline

The federal government has set up a National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline (1-888-373-7888).[64] The hotline answers questions and responds to crises in up to 170 languages.[65] and provides materials in over 20 languages.[66] Since 2007, the hotline has received over 60,000 calls. Callers include victims of human trafficking seeking services, as well as individuals and organizations seeking information about human trafficking. 25 states have mandated certain types of businesses to post a hotline.[67] Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Tennessee have their own hotline while the others use the national hotline.[68]

Safe Harbor laws

Safe Harbor laws protect victims of human trafficking from legal prosecution of crimes committed while under the influence of the trafficker and provide services such as counseling and housing and protect them from their exploiters.[69] Victims of trafficking are protected under federal law, but may still be charged under state law.

The federal Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act of 2013 is a law that encourages states to pass safe harbor laws. It elevated the status of the National Human Trafficking Hotline and opened up the Job Corps program to sex trafficking victims.[70]

Pressure from human rights groups

International NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called on the U.S. to improve its measures aimed at reducing trafficking. They recommend that the U.S. more fully implement the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children and for immigration officers to improve their awareness of trafficking and support the victims of trafficking.[71][72]

Health professionals

Doctors and health professionals are asked to look out for possible victims of human trafficking as most get to health care services at some time. Health care services have the chance to rescue them.[73]

National opposition organizations

As a moral panic

A number of authorities and critics of contemporary anti-prostitution activism have pointed out that the hysteria over human trafficking as conflated with voluntary adult prostitution has all the hallmarks of a moral panic, and indeed closely resembles the white slavery hysteria at the beginning of the 20th century. As is typical in such panics, broad claims are made with insufficient factual support, "horror stories" of victims take the place of research, and legislators rush to enact dangerously broad and vague legislation which infringes on civil rights.[80]

Anthropologist Laura Agustín has written at great length about the way voluntary migration is purposefully conflated with involuntary trafficking, and how anti-trafficking laws tend to assume any foreign or underage prostitute is a "trafficking victim" even if she denies it. In a similar vein, ethnographers studying U.S.-born adolescents involved in street-based sex markets have argued that the relationships that these adolescents have with the adults in their lives who help facilitate their market activity typically have a far greater mutuality and equality than is understood by policy-makers, social service providers, and not-for-profit advocates who embrace the human trafficking model.[80] Such critiques of this narrative have generally been dismissed by activists as evidence of Stockholm Syndrome, thus denying the prostitute agency and treating her as mentally ill.[81][82][83][84][85][86][87]

Ethnographers concerned with the validity of activists' impressions studied a federal anti-trafficking task force in a city that had been identified as a hub for domestic minor sex trafficking. In comparing local sex markets with the understandings of local social service providers, law enforcement officials, and anti-trafficking activists participating in the task force they found that many of the claims of widespread trafficking activity were either exaggerations or misinterpretations of anecdotal evidence; thus calling into question activists' ability to understand the context of what they were seeing.[88]



Policy of state governments

Several state governments have taken action to address human trafficking within their borders, through either legislation or prevention activities. For example, Florida state law prohibits forced labor, sex trafficking, and domestic servitude and provides for mandatory law enforcement trainings and victim services. A 2006 Connecticut law prohibits coerced work and makes trafficking a violation of the Connecticut RICO Act. Washington State was the first to pass a law criminalizing human trafficking in 2003.[92]


According to the U.S. State Department, Arizona is a main destination and transit point for labor and sex trafficking, both nationally and internationally. Some contributing factors include its proximity to Mexico, San Diego and Las Vegas, its warm weather, its network of freeways, and the fact that it is a major conference destination, and home to many professional sporting events.[93] The Great Recession also hit Phoenix particularly hard, leading to a spike in homeless youth who are vulnerable to human traffickers.[94] Cindy McCain has raised awareness of human trafficking in Arizona and across the United States and served as co-chair of the Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's Task Force on Human Trafficking.[95][96]




California is particularly vulnerable because of "proximity to international borders, number of ports and airports, significant immigrant population, and large economy that includes industries that attract forced labor."[104] It serves both as an entry point for slaves imported from outside the US as well as a destination for slaves. Slavery is found throughout California, but major hubs are centered around Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco.[105]

In 2011, California enacted a new law called the “Transparency in Supply Chains Act.”[106] The law requires certain retailers to disclose their efforts to eradicate slavery and human trafficking from their supply chains. The law went into effect January 1, 2012, and it applies to any company that is in the "retail trade" that has annual worldwide gross receipts in excess of $100 million and annual California sales exceeding $500,000.[107]



Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking ( based in Clearwater, Florida. FCAHT’s founder, Anna Rodriguez, had her first experience with a Human Trafficking case in 1999; U.S. vs. Tecum. Anna served as a victim advocate with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and an outreach coordinator for the Immokalee Shelter for Abused Women in Collier County, Florida for 10 years. Her first human trafficking case developed from a “home visitation”, in where she was following up on a domestic violence incident. She noticed the presence of a young female who turned out to be a victim of human trafficking. Anna identified “red flags” that made her suspicious and eventually she helped get the victim out. Today the Tecum case has become a major case study by agencies including USDOJ, FSU, Croft Institute for International and New York Times. The Tecum case was one of the cases used to urge US Congress in passing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

The mission of FCAHT is to improve and provide outreach and services to victims of human trafficking throughout the State of Florida by developing support programs, networking, coalition building, training, service delivery, and referrals to victims in need. FCAHT works closely with community service providers to provide victims with emergency food and shelter, medical and psychological treatment and other services as needed to help these individuals restore their lives and their freedoms.

FCAHT provides training to law enforcement agencies, medical facilities, faith based, civil and community organizations to bring awareness and recognition to the signs and symptoms of Human Trafficking.

FCAHT also works very closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, State and local law enforcement agencies in Florida as well providing guidance to law enforcement Nationwide and Internationally. FCAHT also works hand in hand with government officials, victim service providers, faith based groups and civic groups throughout Florida, the Nation and overseas. FCAHT has assisted in the coordination of funded/unfunded human trafficking task forces throughout the state of Florida and across the Nation as well. FCAHT has also assisted in the creation of new human trafficking laws within the State of Florida as well as overseas.

  1. Florida Abolitionist: based in Orlando[110]


State Policy:

Georgia law OCGA 16-5-46 prohibits the trafficking of persons for labor or sexual servitude with a more severe penalty for trafficking minors.[111]

Other Related Laws:

On April 2, 2015 a new law passed called the SB8 and SR7. Under this law convicted traffickers will register as sex offenders and pay into a state fund called New Safe Harbor to help victims of sex trafficking with physical, mental health, education, job training and legal help.[112]

HB 200 law went into effect on July 1, 2011. The law is harsher when it involves minors and can be up to a twenty-year prison sentence and a $100,000 fine. Another major step is that the age of consent, which is sixteen, or lack of knowledge of the victim’s age is no longer a valid defense.[113]

Major Issues:

Atlanta is now a major transportation hub when it comes to trafficking young girls from Mexico and is one of the fourteen U.S. cities with the highest levels of sex trafficking of children.[114]

In the year of 2007 the sex trade generated $290 million in Atlanta.[111]

Craigslist is a major medium for the advertisement for sex and the site is known to get three hits per day.[115]

Since Atlanta has “the same ready access to commercial air and ground routes that draws businesses and travelers to Atlanta also entices criminals engaged in human trafficking”. There are numerous events and conventions in Atlanta that bring many people to the city which also exemplifies the issue.[114]


Out Of Darkness: is an organization that is against sex trafficking which is located in Atlanta Georgia; Out of Darkness falls under the section 501(c) (3). Their “mission is to reach, rescue and restore all victims of commercial sexual exploitation, that the glory of God may be known.”[116]

BeLoved Atlanta: Atlanta is an organization that focuses on the “community of women who have survived trafficking, prostitution and addiction”. BeLoved Atlanta will provide a residential home to adult women who were personally affected by sexual exploitation, they are able to provide their services to residents for up to two years.[117]

End It: “is a coalition of leading organization in the world to fight for freedom”. There mission is to shine a light on all forms of slavery. End it “Partners are doing the work, on the ground, every day, to bring AWARENESS, PREVENTION, RESCUE, and RESTORATION.”[118]

Not for sale: is about protecting individuals from modern day slavery and human trafficking. Not for sale started out in San Francisco however is located in 15 other states. They provide safety, job-training, and life skills, along with many other outlets.[119]


In 2006, Governor Jennifer Granholm signed House Bill 5747[120] (introduced by Rep. Phil Pavlov (R)[121]) which specifically outlawed human trafficking in Michigan. The relevant state statutes are sections 750.462a to 750.462i.[122] Effective April 1, 2011, an additional statute, 750.462j was enacted, which set grounds for further prosecution in human trafficking cases.[123]


In 2013, Nevada passed Assembly Bill 67, which uses the federal definition of sex trafficking and increases penalties by one level. It makes victims eligible for state assistance and allows them to sue their traffickers. Sex traffickers will have to register as a sex offender, and their assets will be seized to pay for victim services.[124]

Legal brothels

Prostitution of adults is legal in 11 rural counties in Nevada. By creating false identification, outside pimps can use these brothels to traffick children.[125][126][127] Detective Greg Harvey, from Eugene, Oregon, said such cases were in reality very common; he said, "It's happening right now, it's amazing how many girls are shipped from here to different brothels in northern and southern Nevada. Many are underage." Another detective, Sgt. Pete Kerns, supported Harvey's claims: "Never buy the line that nobody under 18 works in (Nevada brothels)," he said. "It's happening."[127]

In her 2007 report, Prostitution and trafficking in Nevada: making the connections, Melissa Farley presents the results of numerous interviews with brothel owners and prostitutes, she says that most brothel prostitutes are controlled by outside pimps and that they suffer widespread abuse by brothel owners and customers.[128] Bob Herbert supports the claim, stating: "Despite the fiction that they are “independent contractors,” most so-called legal prostitutes have pimps — the state-sanctioned pimps who run the brothels and, in many cases, a second pimp who controls all other aspects of their lives (and takes the bulk of their legal earnings)."[126]

Alexa Albert says that the trafficking is done in cooperation with brothel owners, so the prostitutes will be easier to control.[125] Assemblyman Bob L. Beers said that "A brothel owner is somebody who, when it gets down to the very essence, is nothing more than a slave-owner."[129] Former Nye County Commissioner Candice Trummell, director of the Nevada Coalition Against Sex Trafficking, said "It is way past time for Nevada to be the last state in the United States of America to finally stand against all forms of slavery."[130]

In 2009, an article in the Guardian stated that some Nevada counties and towns "impose some extraordinary restrictions on commercial sex workers" in order to "separate sex workers from the local community": some places forbid prostitutes to leave the brothels for extended periods of time, while other jurisdictions require the prostitutes to leave the county when they are not working; some places do not allow the children of the women who work in the brothels to live in the same area; some brothel workers are not permitted to leave the brothel after 5pm; in some counties registered sex workers are not allowed to have cars at all.[131] Another former prostitute who worked in four Nevada brothels attacked the system, saying, "Under this system, prostitutes give up too much autonomy, control and choice over their work and lives" and "While the brothel owners love this profitable solution, it can be exploitative and is unnecessary". She described how the women were subject to various exaggerated restrictions, including making it very difficult for them to refuse clients and having to deal with doctors who had a "patronizing or sexist attitude" (the brothels discouraged and in many cases forbade prostitutes to see doctors of their own choosing).[132]

Las Vegas

Although illegal, 90% of prostitution in Nevada occurs in Las Vegas.[133] In 2009 Las Vegas was identified by the FBI as one of 14 cities in the U.S. with high rates of child prostitution.[134] Las Vegas police claimed that "roughly 400 children are picked off the streets from prostitution each year."[135] The U.S. Justice Department has also named Las Vegas among the 17 most likely destinations for human trafficking.[136] Shared Hope International says Las Vegas is a major hub for child sex trafficking, in part because of the hyper-sexualized entertainment industry, easy access to alcohol and drugs, and 24-hour gambling.[137]


New York




The Ohio Human Trafficking Task Force was created by executive order on March 29, 2012. It coordinates efforts between 11 departments to identify and rescue victims, to coordinate investigation of human trafficking cases, and to provide the services and treatment for victims.[149] Since then, Ohio has spent $2 million on programs for trafficking victims.[150] Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Paul Herbert established a program called Changing Actions to Change Habits (CATCH court), which is a two-year probation program for adult victims of human trafficking that allows them to have their prior convictions dismissed.[151]

Ohio is particularly vulnerable to human trafficking because it has both large urban centers and rural counties and a large transient and immigrant population, as well as five major highways with easy access to other states and Canada.[149] 24 out of 88 counties have no human-trafficking training or access to victim services.[152] 1,078 Ohio children are victims of human sex trafficking every year.[153] Toledo is the fourth largest recruitment site for human trafficking in the US.[149]


H.B. 262 (The Ohio Human Trafficking Act of 2012) raised the penalty for committing the crime of human trafficking to a first-degree felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of 10–15 years, created a diversion program for juvenile victims to receive protection and treatment, and allows for adult victims of human trafficking with prior convictions of prostitution or solicitation to have their records expunged.[149]



Worthwhile Wear is an international organization that provides a way out of forced prostitution or human trafficking both overseas and in the US. In Pennsylvania, Worthwhile Wear operates a program called, The Well, offering long-term housing (up to 2 years), restorative services and employment to women, 18 years and older, who have been affected by human trafficking.


Major U.S. hubs

The main factors that contribute to high levels of trafficking through Atlanta and Houston are proximity, demographics, and a large migrant labor force.[156] The presence of two large airports provides ways in and out of the city in Houston and in Atlanta having the worlds busiest and largest airport makes it easy.[157] Proof for the high level of trafficking in Atlanta and Houston includes the high majority of calls to National Trafficking Hotline coming from The Atlanta Center and Houston.


Houston’s proximity to the Mexican border, I-10, a highway running across country through Houston, and the port of Houston make it a popular point of entry for international trafficking.[156] Houston’s huge geographic size and large Hispanic population create optimal conditions for trafficking because of the ability to blend in with the community.[156] There are large Asian and Middle Eastern populations that allow traffickers and their victims to blend easily into local communities.[158] Also, Texas businesses employ migrant labors in many different sectors throughout the state; such as textiles, agriculture, restaurants, construction, and domestic work.[156] This vast diversity makes it difficult for law enforcement to concentrate on any one labor sector and be effective in ending human trafficking.[156]

Types of trafficking found in Houston

The United States, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 defines sex trafficking as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person forced to perform such an act is under the age of 18 years.[159] Sex trafficking that occurs in Houston is not limited to taking place in strip clubs, spas, massage parlors, modeling studios, cantinas, and residential brothels in hotels, motels, apartments and houses.[159] Labor trafficking found in Houston may be but not limited to agricultural work, restaurants, nail salons, domestic servitude, peddling, begging, or traveling sales crew.[159]

Quantity of trafficking in Texas

Based on a study released by Dallas Women's Foundation, sex trafficking of young girls is not an isolated phenomenon, but a widespread criminal activity in Texas.[160] The research found that 740 girls under age 18 were documented being marketed for sex during a 30-day period in Texas, of whom 712 of these girls were being marketed through Internet classified web sites and 28 were being marketed through escort services.[160] More information concluded from the research is that there are more girls being trafficked for sex in Texas during one month than there are women killed in domestic violence with former or current husbands, intimate partners or boyfriends in Texas over an entire year.[160] There are more girls being trafficked for sex in Texas during one month than there are females of all ages who died from complication due to AIDS in one year in Texas.[160] And finally, there are more girls being trafficked for sex in Texas during one month than there are teen girls who died by suicide, homicide, and accidents in the state in one year.[160]

Laws and policies

There are several pieces of legislation in place in Texas working to combat human trafficking. Recent legislation passed in Texas mandates that all incoming local law enforcement receive training on human trafficking.[161] In Houston specifically, one of the primary elements of the Juvenile Justice System in Harris County is the Juvenile Probation Department (HCJPD). HCJPD is "committed to the protection of the public, utilizing intervention strategies that are community-based, family-oriented and least restrictive while emphasizing responsibility and accountability of both parent and child". Feeding into HCJPD is the juvenile court system that includes five juvenile courts (each with a different judge presiding), a juvenile mental health court, and a juvenile drug court.[157]


  1. The Coalition Against Human Trafficking: works to increase community awareness of human trafficking and coordinate the identification, assistance, and protection of victims through community education, advocacy, provision of culturally and linguistically sensitive victim services, and efforts to ensure the investigation and prosecution of human traffickers.[162]
  2. Mosaic Family Services operates the Services for Victims of Trafficking Program that provides culturally and linguistically competent services to victims experiencing abuse, so that they may quickly recover from a criminal act.[162]
  3. The Texas Association Against Sexual Assault: educates rape centers and domestic violence shelters throughout Texas about human trafficking.[162]
  4. Free the Captives: is a Christian-based NGO that has objectives including educating the community, preventing, and intervening in the trafficking of at-risk teens, reducing the demand, and pursuing legal remedies to combat trafficking.[163]
  5. Houston Rescue and Restore: exists to prevent and confront modern-day slavery by educating the public, training professionals, and empowering the community to take action for the purpose of identifying, rescuing, and restoring trafficking victims to freedom.[164]
  6. CHILDREN AT RISK: works to end child trafficking and ensure that child victims are recognized as victims and not criminals.[165]
  7. Innocence Lost


According to officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other law enforcement agencies, there is a growing problem with human trafficking in Virginia, particularly in connection with Latino gangs, including MS-13. Anti-human trafficking advocates argue that weak laws in Virginia are attracting traffickers from Washington D.C. and Maryland which have passed stricter laws.[166]


Before April 1, 2015, Virginia was the only state in the nation that did not have any standalone human trafficking laws. SB 1188[167] and HB 1964[168] were passed on April 1, 2015. They were the first bills in Virginia to define sex trafficking, establish penalties, criminalized child sex trafficking as a Class 3 felony without the need to prove force, intimidation or deception, and criminalized recruitment for commercial sex. It also provides provisions for protecting and identifying sex trafficking victims.[169] Robert Dillard was the first man charged under this law.[170]


See also


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  166. SB 1188
  167. HB 1964
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  171. "Frock 4 Freedom sale offering trendy fashion for a cause". ABC. September 11, 2015.
  172. "Run 4 Their Lives races". Freedom 4/24.
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External links

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