What Is Trafficking In Persons?
“Trafficking in persons” and “human trafficking” have been used as umbrella terms for the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 (Pub. L. 106-386), as amended, and the Palermo Protocol describe this compelled service using a number of different terms, including involuntary servitude, slavery or practices similar to slavery, debt bondage, and forced labor.
Human trafficking can include but does not require movement. People may be considered trafficking victims regardless of whether they were born into a state of servitude, were transported to the exploitative situation, previously consented to work for a trafficker, or participated in a crime as a direct result of being trafficked. At the heart of this phenomenon is the traffickers’ goal of exploiting and enslaving their victims and the myriad coercive and deceptive practices they use to do so.
The Face of Modern Slavery
When an adult is coerced, forced, or deceived into prostitution—or maintained in prostitution through one of these means after initially consenting—that person is a victim of trafficking. Under such circumstances, perpetrators involved in recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for that purpose are responsible for trafficking crimes. Sex trafficking also may occur within debt bondage, as women and girls are forced to continue in prostitution through the use of unlawful “debt” purportedly incurred through their transportation, recruitment, or even their crude “sale”—which exploiters insist they must pay off before they can be free. A person’s initial consent to participate in prostitution is not legally determinative: if one is thereafter held in service through psychological manipulation or physical force, he or she is a trafficking victim and should receive benefits outlined in the Palermo Protocol and applicable domestic laws.
Child Sex Trafficking
When a child (under 18 years of age) is induced to perform a commercial sex act, proving force, fraud, or coercion against their pimp is not necessary for the offense to be characterized as human trafficking. There are no exceptions to this rule: no cultural or socioeconomic rationalizations should prevent the rescue of children from sexual servitude. The use of children in the commercial sex trade is prohibited both under U.S. law and by statute in most countries around the world. Sex trafficking has devastating consequences for minors, including long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease (including HIV/AIDS), drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, and even death.
Forced labor, sometimes also referred to as labor trafficking, encompasses the range of activities—recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining—involved when a person uses force or physical threats, psychological coercion, abuse of the legal process, deception, or other coercive means to compel someone to work. Once a person’s labor is exploited by such means, the person’s previous consent or effort to obtain employment with the trafficker becomes irrelevant. Migrants are particularly vulnerable to this form of human trafficking, but individuals also may be forced into labor in their own countries. Female victims of forced or bonded labor, especially women and girls in domestic servitude, are often sexually exploited as well.
Bonded Labor Or Debt Bondage
One form of coercion is the use of a bond or debt. U.S. law prohibits the use of a debt or other threats of financial harm as a form of coercion and the Palermo Protocol requires its criminalization as a form of trafficking in persons. Some workers inherit debt; for example, in South Asia it is estimated that there are millions of trafficking victims working to pay off their ancestors’ debts. Others fall victim to traffickers or recruiters who unlawfully exploit an initial debt assumed as a term of employment.
Debt bondage of migrant laborers in their countries of origin, often with the support of labor agencies and employers in the destination country, can also contribute to a situation of debt bondage. Such circumstances may occur in the context of employment-based temporary work programs when a worker’s legal status in the country is tied to the employer and workers fear seeking redress.
Involuntary Domestic Servitude
Involuntary domestic servitude is a form of human trafficking found in unique circumstances—informal work in a private residence—these circumstances create unique vulnerabilities for victims. Domestic workplaces are informal, connected to off-duty living quarters, and often not shared with other workers. Such an environment, which can isolate domestic workers, is conducive to exploitation because authorities cannot inspect homes as easily as they can compared to formal workplaces. Investigators and service providers report many cases of untreated illnesses and, tragically, widespread sexual abuse, which in some cases may be symptoms of a situation of involuntary servitude.
Forced Child Labor
Although children may legally engage in certain forms of work, forms of slavery or slavery-like practices continue to exist as manifestations of human trafficking, despite legal prohibitions and widespread condemnation. A child can be a victim of human trafficking regardless of the location of that nonconsensual exploitation. Some indicators of possible forced labor of a child include situations in which the child appears to be in the custody of a non-family member who requires the child to perform work that financially benefits someone outside the child’s family and does not offer the child the option of leaving. Anti-trafficking responses should supplement, not replace, traditional actions against child labor, such as remediation and education. When children are enslaved, however, their abusers should not escape criminal punishment by taking weaker administrative responses to child labor practices.