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Human Trafficking

There are a lot of misconceptions about human trafficking that can be detrimental to survivors. We're going to talk about what human trafficking is, bust some myths, and talk about how you can help someone who is being trafficked.

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking involves labor or sex acts obtained through force, fraud, or coercion. Large-scale trafficking operations have been sensationalized in the media and in entertainment, but they are not the norm. Human traffickers can be the neighbor next door, the 'nice folks' who own the hotel down the street, or friends or family members.

Labor and sex trafficking can happen in any community, to any age group, to any ethnicity, race, gender, or nationality. Traffickers may use violence, threats, forced substance use, manipulation, false promises, or even the pretense of a romantic relationship to lure people in. Parents, significant others, friends may use similar tacts as abusers to traffic victims.

Other important things to know about sex and labor trafficking:

  • Under state and federal law, an individual under the age of 18 who participates in a commercial sex act is a victim of human trafficking regardless of the presence of a trafficker.

  • Sexual exploitation can occur without a third-party controller (i.e. Survival Sex).

  • People may engage in commercial sex work from a place of need.

  • If someone has to choose between homelessness (withdrawal, hunger, remaining in an abusive environment, etc.) and engaging in commercial sex work, is that really a choice?

  • There is an inherent power imbalance between the buyer and the person performing sex acts.

  • Victims of labor trafficking may still experience sexual exploitation and sexual assault.

  • They have little recourse due to the vulnerable position they are in.

  • The sample presentation gives definitions of both labor and sex trafficking, but primarily focuses on the dynamics of sex trafficking.

You may be seeing some similarities between human trafficking and domestic violence--and you'd be right.

Similarities & differences between sexual & domestic violence & human trafficking


  • Traffickers can also be spouses, dating partners, family or friends

  • Traffickers use dating relationships to gain a victim's trust

  • Traffickers use all the same tactics of abusers to manipulate, control, & abuse victims

  • Victims often experience the same guilt, low self-esteem, &  difficulty leaving that DV victims do.


  • Traffickers often sexually assault victims to assert their power

  • Sexual violence is used to degrade & weaken personal boundaries

  • Labor trafficking victims are at high risk for sexual violence because they're vulneralbe

  • When a buyer of sex engages in a sex act with a trafficking victim, they are sexually assaulting that person


  • Survivors of human trafficking experience exploitation

  • Protections for victims of trafficking are often tied to their cooperation with the criminal justice system

  • A trafficker may have multiple victims they are abusing/exploiting

  • A trafficker may abuse through proxy, making it harder to prosecute them

Freedom Network USA

So, how can you help?

There are a number of ways you can help. 

  1. Know the indicators of human trafficking.

    • Living with employer​

    • Poor living conditions

    • Multiple people in cramped locations

    • Not allowed to speak to anyone alone

    • Answers appear scripted or rehearsed

    • Employer/partner holds identification

    • Signs of abuse

    • Submissive or fearful

    • Unpaid or paid very little

    • Under 18 and in prostitution

  2. Know what questions to ask

    • Can you quit your job if you want to?​

    • Can you come and go as you please?

    • Are you threatened or hurt if you try to leave?

    • Has your family been threatened?

    • Do you live with your employer?

    • Where do you sleep and eat?

    • Are you in debt to your employer?

    • Do you have your ID? Who does?

  3. What to do if you suspect someone is being trafficked

    • If it's an emergency situation, call 911.​

    • If you suspect trafficking, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

    • If you suspect sex trafficking, you can call the DOVES Program at 866-95-DOVES.

Information from the US Department of State website.

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