Human Trafficking

What is human trafficking?

Dove Advocacy Center Hotline 541-947-2449
Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide – including right here in the United States.

It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality. Traffickers might use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations.

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 are set forth below, followed by several key principles and concepts that relate to all forms of human trafficking.

Forced Labor

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.

Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking encompasses the range of activities involved when a trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion to compel another person to engage in a commercial sex act or causes a child to engage in a commercial sex act.

The crime of sex trafficking is also understood through the “acts,” “means,” and “purpose” framework.  All three elements are required to establish a sex trafficking crime (except in the case of child sex trafficking where the means are irrelevant).

The “acts” element of sex trafficking is met when a trafficker recruits, harbors, transports, provides, obtains, patronizes, or solicits another person to engage in commercial sex.

The “means” element of sex trafficking occurs when a trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion.  Coercion in the case of sex trafficking includes the broad array of means included in the forced labor definition.  These can include threats of serious harm, psychological harm, reputational harm, threats to others, and debt manipulation.

The “purpose” element is a commercial sex act.  Sex trafficking can take place in private homes, massage parlors, hotels, or brothels, among other locations, as well as on the internet.

Victims of Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking: people for sale.

Human trafficking victims can be of any age, race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, immigration status, cultural background, religion, socio-economic class, and education attainment level. In the United States, individuals vulnerable to human trafficking include children in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, including foster care; runaway and homeless youth; unaccompanied foreign national children without lawful immigration status; individuals seeking asylum; American Indians and Alaska Natives, particularly women and girls; individuals with substance use issues; racial or ethnic minorities; migrant laborers, including undocumented workers and participants in visa programs for temporary workers; foreign national domestic workers in diplomatic households; persons with limited English proficiency; persons with disabilities; LGBT+ individuals; and victims of intimate partner violence or other forms of domestic violence.

Human Trafficking doesn’t just happen in foreign countries, it can happen in your own backyard.

Traffickers have become clever in their ways of obtaining victim’s. It is important that you are aware of these tactics they use. Always trust your gut instinct and educate yourself as much as you can on this topic to help keep yourself and loved ones safe. A few examples are listed below:

-Traffickers are known to leave car seats on the side of the road with a blanket covering the top and as a passerby sees this they may stop to investigate, making sure there is not an abandoned child. As the driver gets out of the vehicle they become vulnerable to what’s lurking around the corner. This gives traffickers the ability to capture their victim’s in plain site.

-If you are a fan of Tiktok you may have watched the video of a young female coming out of a Walmart parking lot to her vehicle at night with her male friend and to her surprise there is a full bottle of honey stuck to the top of her car. As she and her male friend laugh hysterically they did not realize the real danger they we in. After the video was released on the Tiktok media platform, many police agencies from all around the world made it very clear that this is no laughing matter, this is in fact a trafficking tactic. As the potential victim tries to get the honey off of her vehicle she is unware and vulnerable of being abducted.

This is just two examples of many forms traffickers use. A story from the New York post stated that Sex-traffickers hunt for victims outside large group homes filled with foster kids who have been abandoned by their families and near high schools because “victimization is all about vulnerability,” says Laura Riso, a victim’s specialist with the FBI.

“As many as 90 percent of sex-trafficking victims suffer abuse — mental, physical, sexual — long before they are forced onto the streets to sell themselves, and traffickers know and exploit the damage that such trauma can cause,” she told The Post.

The traffickers “will try everything. It’s very simple, it’s very easy. .. ‘Hey you’re really beautiful, I love your hair. Why don’t you let me take you to dinner?’ ” Riso said.

The internet has made every child online susceptible and accessible to traffickers… so a lot of youth are being recruited right from their own home

It can be an individual who is on Facebook and is friend-requesting all of the students who say they attend a certain middle school. And then when one or two accept, they friend-request all of their friends and so on. … By the time they’re friend-requesting a vulnerable youth, they have 30 mutual friends, and they seem that they’re legitimate.”

Studies have shown that the average age of entry into the sex industry is as young as 12 years old.

A trafficker comes and says, ‘You know, you’re more mature than other youth your age, there’s something special about you, tell me about your goals, who do you want to be.’ They spend this time getting to know them, and there’s no way for that youth to know this is all part of the grooming process. It’s all done to make the youth feel special. [The traffickers] spend time making connections with them in order to exploit them later on.

‘The internet has made every child online susceptible and accessible to traffickers’

-Erin Williamson

Who are the Traffickers?

At the heart of this phenomenon is the traffickers’ aim to profit from the exploitation of their victims and the myriad coercive and deceptive practices they use to do so. Traffickers can be strangers, acquaintances, or even family members, and they prey on the vulnerable and on those seeking opportunities to build for themselves a brighter future.

Why don’t those being trafficked just leave?

Similar to domestic violence situations, victims are often asked why they don’t “just leave the situation.” Here are a number of reasons researchers have identified:

• They may not feel like they are being victimized. In some cases, they feel that being sexually exploited is “normal” because of an adverse childhood experience.

• The trafficker or “pimp” is sometimes viewed as a romantic partner.

• In many cases, the trafficker has essentially brainwashed the victim to the point that they believe they truly care about them and are there to keep them safe, while law enforcement and authority figures cannot be trusted.

• They may be afraid to leave. Even if they were assured that the trafficker will go to jail, they may still feel like they still won’t be able to escape them.

• They may feel like that their situation being trafficked for sex is better than if they were to be free. There might not be enough family or community support to make it on their own.

• There may be cultural norms that ingrain a policy of “don’t talk about it.” They may be too ashamed to leave and accept help, when it is normal in their culture to keep abuse a secret.

How can I help someone being trafficked?

-Keep yourself safe. You do not have to approach an individual, as the trafficker might be nearby or watching. However, if the person is alone and you feel comfortable, you may approach the person safely at a time and place that is confidential.
-Express concern for their safety and well-being. Ask questions about their working and living conditions, if they have the freedom to move, and access to their travel documents or identification.
-Communicate that you care about their safety, that they do not deserve to be hurt, and that the abuse is not their fault.
-Tell them good things about themselves. Let them know you think they are smart, strong, and brave. Their abuser may be tearing down their self-esteem.
-Take mental notes about specifics in the situation: license plate, car make/model, clothes, identifying factors, visible tattoos, etc. Then report the incident to local law enforcement by calling 911 and to the National Human Trafficking Hotline by calling 1-888-373-7888.
-Respect their choices.
-Be patient. Self-empowerment may take longer than you want. Go at their pace, not yours.
-Consider calling CFPA to learn more about the kinds of help available, to ask questions specific to the situation, and to learn how you can be an effective and supportive ally. Center for prevention and abuse (CFPA) CRISIS HOTLINE: 1-800-559-SAFE (7233)


-Do not accuse, diagnose, or judge their choices; do not draw conclusions about what they may be experiencing or feeling; and do not judge or criticize their abuser.
-Do not pressure them to leave the trafficker or abusive relationship. There are many reasons they may choose to stay. It is possible their trafficker has threatened to hurt them, their family, or their children if they try to leave. The abuser may control all of their finances and personal identification documents such as passport, driver’s license, social security card, and may have isolated the victim from friends and family, leaving them with very few resources of their own. The abuser may have promised payment and a better life, and it is never as simple as encouraging a victim to “just leave” but by all means, communicate to them that help does exist, and that people in their community care about them and their family and want them to be safe.
-Do not feel the need to be an expert. Do not try to provide counseling or advice, but do connect them to trained people who can help. CFPA staff are available at 309-691-0551 or the 24/7 crisis hotline at 1-800-559-SAFE (7233). You can call also the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

General Safety Tips

-Trust your judgment. If a situation/individual makes you uncomfortable, trust that feeling.
-Let a trusted friend or relative know if you feel like you are in danger or if a person or situation is suspicious.
-If possible, set up safety words with a trusted friend/relative.
One word can mean that it is safe to talk and you are alone.
A separate word can mean you are not safe.
It is also important to communicate what you would like done (cease communication immediately, call 9-1-1, meet somewhere to pick you up, etc.).
-Keep all important documents and identification in your possession at all times. Your partner/employer does not have the right to take or hold your documents without your permission.
-Keep important numbers on your person at all times, including the number of someone you feel safe contacting if you are in trouble.
-Make sure that you have a means of communication (cell phone or phone card), access to your bank account, and any medication that you might need with you at all times.
-If you think you might be in immediate danger or you are experiencing an emergency, contact 9-1-1 first.

How can I help fight human trafficking?

Learn the indicators of human trafficking on the TIP Office’s website or by taking a training. Human trafficking awareness training is available for individuals, businesses, first responders, law enforcement, educators, and federal employees, among others.

If you are in the United States and believe someone may be a victim of human trafficking, call the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or report an emergency to law enforcement by calling 911. Trafficking victims, whether or not U.S. citizens, are eligible for services and immigration assistance.

-Be a conscientious and informed consumer. Find out more about who may have picked your tomatoes or made your clothes at , or check out the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor .

-Encourage companies to take steps to prevent human trafficking in their supply chains and publish the information, including supplier or factory lists, for consumer awareness.
Volunteer and support anti-trafficking efforts in your community .

-Meet with and/or write to your local, state, and federal elected officials to let them know you care about combating human trafficking and ask what they are doing to address it.
Be well-informed. Set up a web alert to receive current human trafficking news. Also, check out CNN’s Freedom Project for more stories on the different forms of human trafficking around the world.

-Host an awareness-raising event to watch and discuss films about human trafficking. For example, learn how modern slavery exists today; watch an investigative documentary about sex trafficking; or discover how forced labor can affect global food supply chains. Alternatively, contact your local library and ask for assistance identifying an appropriate book and ask them to host the event.

-Organize a fundraiser and donate the proceeds to an anti-trafficking organization .
Encourage your local schools or school district to include human trafficking in their curricula and to develop protocols for identifying and reporting a suspected case of human trafficking or responding to a potential victim.

-Use your social media platforms to raise awareness about human trafficking, using the following hashtags: #endtrafficking, #freedomfirst.
Think about whether your workplace is trauma-informed and reach out to management or the Human Resources team to urge implementation of trauma-informed business practices.

-Become a mentor to a young person or someone in need. Traffickers often target people who are going through a difficult time or who lack strong support systems. As a mentor, you can be involved in new and positive experiences in that person’s life during a formative time.

-Parents and Caregivers: Learn how human traffickers often target and recruit youth and who to turn to for help in potentially dangerous situations. Host community conversations with parent teacher associations, law enforcement, schools, and community members regarding safeguarding children in your community.

-Youth: Learn how to recognize traffickers’ recruitment tactics , how to safely navigate out of a suspicious or uncomfortable situations, and how to reach out for help at any time.

-Faith-Based Communities : Host awareness events and community forums with anti-trafficking leaders or collectively support a local victim service provider.

-Businesses: Provide jobs, internships, skills training, and other opportunities to trafficking survivors. Take steps to investigate and prevent trafficking in your supply chains by consulting the Responsible Sourcing Tool and Comply Chain to develop effective management systems to detect, prevent, and combat human trafficking.

-College Students: Take action on your campus. Join or establish a university club to raise awareness about human trafficking and initiate action throughout your local community.

-Consider doing one of your research papers on a topic concerning human trafficking. Request that human trafficking be included in university curricula.

-Health Care Providers: Learn how to identify the indicators of human trafficking and assist victims. With assistance from local anti-trafficking organizations, extend low-cost or free services to human trafficking victims. Resources from the Department of Health and Human Services can be found on their website.

-Journalists: The media plays an enormous role in shaping perceptions and guiding the public conversation about human trafficking. Seek out some media best practices on how to effectively and responsibly report stories on human trafficking.

-Attorneys: Offer human trafficking victims legal services, including support for those seeking benefits or special immigration status. Resources are available for attorneys representing victims of human trafficking.

For more than a decade, from 1998 to 2011, members of the Granados-Hernandez sex trafficking organization smuggled young women from Mexico illegally into the United States, forced them to work in the commercial sex trade in New York and collected profits from their activities. When the victims arrived in New York, they learned – most for the first time – that the Granados-Hernandez ‘s organization intended to sexually exploit them for money. When they refused or resisted, the women were beaten, sexually assaulted and told that their families would be harmed. After they were rescued, a vast network of organizations and individuals provided services and advocacy to these victims, including: Safe Horizon; Sanctuary for Families; the Urban Justice Center; the New York City Bar Justice Center; The Legal Aid Society, Civil Division (Bronx); My Sister’s Place; Bennu Legal Services; the Hispanic Advocate, Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migracion and numerous local attorneys and law firms.

A human trafficking victim was reunited with her child, who had been rescued in Mexico from a trafficking organization. The mother and child had been separated by the organization for over 10 years. After substantial post-conviction investigation and international coordination, the child was located and reunited with the mother. Through the coordinated work of HSI and the Eastern District of New York’s anti-trafficking program, 14 children have been reunited with their mothers, all of whom had been trafficked.

For More Information:

Shared Hope International 
Oregonians Against Trafficking Humans
The Polaris Project
Not for Sale Campaign
Human Trafficking Hotline