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Understanding Human Trafficking

Trafficking in persons,” “human trafficking,” and “modern slavery” are umbrella terms – often used interchangeably – to refer to a crime whereby traffickers exploit and profit at the expense of adults or children by compelling them to perform labor or engage in commercial sex. When a person younger than 18 is used to perform a commercial sex act, it is a crime regardless of whether there is any force, fraud, or coercion involved. The United States recognizes two primary forms of trafficking in persons: forced labor and sex trafficking.


The basic meaning of these forms of human trafficking and some unique characteristics of each will follow in future postings, including several key principles and concepts that relate to all forms of human trafficking. More than 175 nations have ratified or acceded to the UN TIP Protocol, which defines trafficking in persons and contains obligations to prevent and combat the crime. The elements of the definitions can be described using a three-element framework focused on the trafficker’s 1) acts; 2) means; and 3) purpose. All three elements are essential to form a human trafficking violation.


Forced labor, sometimes also referred to as labor trafficking, encompasses the range of activities involved when a person uses force, fraud, or coercion to exploit the labor or services of another person.

The “acts” element of forced labor is met when the trafficker recruits, harbors, transports, provides, or obtains a person for labor or services.

The “means” element of forced labor includes a trafficker’s use of force, fraud, or coercion. The coercive scheme can include threats of force, debt manipulation, withholding of pay, confiscation of identity documents, psychological coercion, reputational harm, manipulation of the use of addictive substances, threats to other people, or other forms of coercion.


The “purpose” element focuses on the perpetrator’s goal to exploit a person’s labor or services. There is no limit on the location or type of industry. Traffickers can commit this crime in any sector or setting, whether legal or illicit, including but not limited to agricultural fields, factories, restaurants, hotels, massage parlors, retail stores, fishing vessels, mines, private homes, or drug trafficking operations. All three elements are essential to constitute the crime of forced labor

(Trafficking In Persons Report 2022)


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