Human Trafficking Into and Within the United States: A Review of the Literature. What is Human Trafficking?


The crime of human trafficking affects virtually every country in the world (Europol, 2005; Miko, 2000) and has been associated with transnational criminal organizations, small criminal networks and local gangs, violations of labor and immigration codes, and government corruption (Richard, 1999; U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2006).  Historically, trafficking has been defined most often as the trade in women and children for prostitution or other immoral purposes (Europol, 2005).  More recently trafficking has been defined to include other types of force, fraud, or coercion beyond sexual exploitation.  It has been further clarified that victims do not need to be transported across international or other boundaries in order for trafficking to exist.  In 2000, the international community developed and agreed to a definition for trafficking in persons that can be found in Article 3 of the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children:

Trafficking in persons shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power, or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.  Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs (Europol, 2005, p. 10).

At the same time, the U.S. Congress defined and classified human trafficking into two categoriessex trafficking and labor traffickingin the TVPA.  As stated previously, sex trafficking involves 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 younger than age 18.  A commercial sex act means any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.  Types of sex trafficking include prostitution, pornography, stripping, live-sex shows, mail-order brides, military prostitution, and sex tourism.  Labor trafficking is defined in the TVPA as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.  Labor trafficking situations may arise in domestic servitude, restaurant work, janitorial work, sweatshop factory work, migrant agricultural work, construction, and peddling (8 U.S.C. § 1101). 

Human trafficking is synonymous with trafficking in persons and has commonly been referred to as modern day slavery.  Under the U.S. definition, transportation or physical movement of the victim does not necessarily need to be present in order for the crime to occur; instead, it is the presence of exploitation (force, fraud, or coercion) that indicates whether a trafficking crime has occurred.  The TVPA and subsequent reauthorizations not only provide a standard legal definition of the crime of human trafficking but also offer a framework for current and future U.S. anti-trafficking efforts.  It addresses the prevention of trafficking, protection and assistance for victims of trafficking, and prosecution and punishment of traffickers (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2006).  While most of the anti-trafficking efforts within the United States have historically focused on trafficking of foreign nationals into the country, the 2005 reauthorization of the TVPA highlighted the need to address the trafficking of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, in particular minor victims of sex trafficking or the prostitution of minors, within U.S. borders (22 U.S.C §7103).

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