Human Trafficking FAQs

While human trafficking is a serious crime here in the United States, many people are unaware it even exists. That is why we believe education is the key to stopping human trafficking. The following is a list of answers to some of the most common questions asked about human trafficking.

What do we mean by “human trafficking?”

Is it the same thing as “sexual abuse?”  

Is it the same thing as “prostitution?”  

Is human trafficking the same thing as “illegal immigration” or “smuggling” of people?

Is trafficking actually a problem in the United States? 

Are there U.S. laws that prohibit trafficking?  

Are there state laws that prohibit trafficking?

Are there international laws that prohibit trafficking?

What do we mean by “human trafficking?”
The most recent and most comprehensive U.S. federal law addresses “severe forms of trafficking in persons,” defining it as:

  • Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, OR
  • Sex trafficking in which the person induced to perform a commercial sex act has not attained 18 years of age, OR
  • Labor trafficking, which is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjugation to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.

Is it the same thing as “sexual abuse?”  
Sexual abuse is related to the issue of trafficking, but it is not the same crime. Trafficking often, but not always, includes sexual abuse.

Is it the same thing as “prostitution?” 
Prostitution is related to trafficking, but it is not necessarily the same crime. If someone over 18 involved in prostitution is participating by choice, it is generally not considered trafficking. However, according to current U.S. federal law, when the person induced to perform a commercial sex act has not attained 18 years of age, commercial sex is considered to be trafficking as is when someone over 18 is part of commercial sex trade through force, fraud or coercion.

Is human trafficking the same thing as “illegal immigration” or “smuggling” of people?
Human trafficking is not alien smuggling or illegal immigration. Smuggling involves a contractual relationship between the person being smuggled and the ‘coyotes’ or other agents, for the purpose of crossing an international border. Once in the destination country, the relationships among the individuals end because the fee has been paid up front. With human trafficking, a person is sold or transported for labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purposes of involuntary servitude, debt bondage, peonage or slavery. However, many who paid to be smuggled find themselves trapped because smugglers then demand more fees and force victims to work to pay off these fees. At that point, trafficking has occurred.

Is trafficking actually a problem in the United States? 
Absolutely! Trafficking of people for the sex industry; for labor in sweatshops, plantations, mines, on farms and as beggars; and as domestic servants is nearly invisible. For current facts and figures of trafficking victims both in the U.S. and globally, check out the CNN Freedom Project, an initiative working to end modern-day slavery.

Are there U.S. laws that prohibit trafficking?  
The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlaws slavery and involuntary servitude (holding another in service through force or threats). The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), effective in 2000, and reauthorized in 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2013, supplements existing laws that apply to human trafficking, including those laws passed to support the 13th Amendment.

Are there state laws that prohibit trafficking? 
Yes. All states currently have state anti-trafficking legislation that complements and strengthens national legislation. However, only 32 states have made significant progress in establishing effective legislation. Check out the Polaris Project for more information and details on state laws regarding trafficking.

Are there international laws that prohibit trafficking? 
There are international (United Nations) “standards,” “protocols” and “conventions” that provide a framework in which countries can address the issue of trafficking. When signed and ratified, these instruments are binding at the juridical level. There are also several Declarations and Programs of Action of the major United Nations World Conferences that call for concerted action by governments, by inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, and others to stop and prevent such crimes. While these are not binding at a juridical level, they have both a political and ethical influence, and can therefore be helpful at national, local and regional levels.