img Explainer

Human Trafficking in the U.S.
ONC Editorial

Aug 29, 2023

Explaining this devastating policy issue.

The co-founder of HEAL Trafficking, Susie B. Baldwin, defines human trafficking as a major global crime, in which people are exploited for the profit or benefit of others. Trafficking has been recognized as a human rights violation, and with the passing of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, U.S. law defines it as a federal crime. 

More specifically, the United States has defined human trafficking as the use of force, fraud, compulsion, trickery or abuse of power to compel a person to perform labor or services. Although many people tend to believe that victims are trafficked across international borders, researchers at the Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work found that 42 percent of people are victimized within their own countries. 

Based on the number of victims that have been identified, statistics show that 71 percent are women and 28 percent are children. In 2016, the U.S. Polaris National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 7,572 cases, and that number only includes those that were discovered by the hotline.

Some cases are difficult to categorize. Smuggled migrants, in an effort to finance their migration, tend to accept work in conditions that could be labeled as exploitative. It is true that, in some trafficking cases, physical violence is not present, and the trafficked person is aware of the type of labor that they are being asked to perform. The workers’ awareness, and hence apparent “consent,” leads to further scholarly debates regarding the legal definition of a trafficked person. 

On the topic of sex trafficking, critics are divided between those who consider it possible for sex work to be voluntary and those who consider prostitution inherently forced or exploitative. In terms of protocol, consent can be invalidated if any signs of force or abuse, such as coercion, abduction, fraud or deception, are present. 

These complexities, the plethora of unique ways in which human trafficking occurs, make it difficult to legislate on the issue. 

In 2012, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that 20.9 million people were victims of forced labor and human trafficking worldwide. The Journal of Human Trafficking claims the ILO’s estimate is the most reliable (and most commonly cited) statistic on human trafficking to date. 

This contrasts with the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report data, which claims that there were only 44,462 victims worldwide in 2014. No reports on the issue ever seem to be the same. Underreporting, contested definitions, misclassification and faulty reporting techniques remain prevalent problems to this day.

Samantha Blum is a MS graduate from University of New Haven, where she studied National Security with a concentration in Information & Security. She holds a bachelor's degree in Public Justice from SUNY Oswego, where she graduated Cum Laude. She has also worked as a research assistant focused on supporting the implementation of active shooter protocols in schools.

To see all sources consulted, click HERE.

comments powered by Disqus

Video Site Tour


Subscribe to ONC Newsletter.