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Section 1
Understanding the Types and Venues of Human Trafficking
in the United States

Question 1 | Test | Table of Contents

Sex Trafficking
Some types of human trafficking in the United States include sex trafficking and forced labor, among others (U.S. Department of Education, 2013). Sex trafficking can take place in many forms, including prostitution, stripping, pornography, and escort services. Sex trafficking can occur in a number of different venues including online advertisements, strip clubs, brothels, massage parlors, nightclubs, karaoke bars, truck stops, by individual violent or coercive pimps or gang-based prostitution (U.S. Department of Education, 2014) (U.S. Department of Justice, 2017). 

Victims of sex trafficking have often been advertised by their pimps through the adult or escort services section on certain online classified advertising websites. These types of advertisements typically do not specifically discuss commercial sexual activity and usually use a false name and age for the victim. These types of advertisements will often take place in multiple areas in order to increase the trafficker’s profits and to avoid detection by law enforcement agencies.

Victims of sex trafficking are not limited to one gender or one age group, there have been both U.S. and foreign citizens, female, male, and transgender individuals who have been victims of human trafficking. Most victims in the previous decade were found to have been U.S. citizen women and children (U.S. Department of Justice, 2017).

A recent case prosecuted by DOJ demonstrates some of these typical features. The defendant recruited vulnerable young women and girls from the Charlotte, North Carolina area and advertised them for prostitution on the Internet. He lured them into his scheme by promising that they would be part of a “family,” as they had none. Once the women and girls were a part of his enterprise, the defendant demanded all of their proceeds and used brutal violence to control the victims, including handcuffing and beating one, punching another until she vomited, and burning a third on the leg with a cigarette. As one witness explained at trial, the defendant never hit the victims in the face because it would damage his “merchandise.” The defendant kidnapped one of the victims and viciously beat her after she left and reported him to the police. He continued his efforts to intimidate and control the victims even after his arrest by, among other things, convincing the kidnapping victim to try to retract her allegation. A federal jury convicted the defendant of sex trafficking, kidnapping, production of child pornography, witness tampering, and promoting a prostitution business enterprise. In May 2016, he was sentenced to life in prison and was also ordered to pay more than $13,000 in restitution to the two identified sex trafficking victims, whom he trafficked for periods of two months and three months, respectively (U.S. Department of Justice, 2017).

Labor Trafficking
Labor trafficking is defined as providing or obtaining labor by one or more of the following prohibited means: force, threats of force, threats of serious harm, or a scheme, plan, or pattern that is intended to cause a victim to fear serious harm.

Investigations by the FBI suggest that labor trafficking is more likely in low-skilled or temporary-worker labor situations which can include agriculture, traveling sales crews, restaurants and food service, among others. Approximately one-fifth to one-third of the labor trafficking investigations by the FBI are domestic servitude situations, for example, the compelled service of an individual in a home for cooking, cleaning, caring for elderly or children, or other types of domestic labor. Compelled labor that takes place in a sexually oriented legal business, such as in a strip club, without engaging in commercial sex acts, is also known as a form of labor trafficking.

Throughout the cases that the FBI has had, most victims of labor trafficking that are not U.S. citizens have come from Mexico, China, and the Philippines. Even though the victims most often encountered by the FBI’s labor trafficking investigations are foreign-born, that does not mean that U.S. citizens are also not vulnerable to become victims of labor trafficking (U.S. Department of Justice, 2017).

The United States recently concluded its successful prosecution of two defendants for labor trafficking offenses related to their exploitation of undocumented Guatemalan men and boys. The defendants would lure minors and adults to the United States under false pretenses and then compel them to work on egg farms in Ohio. They and their associates recruited workers from Guatemala, some as young as 14- and 15-years old, by falsely promising them good jobs and a chance to attend school in the United States. The defendants then smuggled and transported the workers to a trailer park in Marion, Ohio, where they ordered them to live in dilapidated trailers and to work at physically demanding jobs at Trillium Farms for up to 12 hours a day for minimal amounts of money. The work included cleaning chicken coops, loading and unloading crates of chickens, de-beaking chickens, and vaccinating chickens. The defendants pleaded guilty in 2015 to conspiracy to commit forced labor, forced labor, witness tampering, and alien harboring. In June 2016, the defendants were sentenced respectively to ten and more than 15 years in prison for their roles in the scheme. They were also ordered to pay more than $67,000 in restitution to the identified victims, eight minors and two adults (U.S. Department of Justice, 2017).

Trafficking of Minors
Traffickers, who can be male, female, or transgender, target vulnerable children and lure them into forced labor, prostitution, and other forms of sexual exploitation. The vast majority of child victims who are forced into the commercial sex industry and forced labor industry are recruited and controlled by traffickers.

Traffickers frequent locations where children congregate, such as malls, schools, bus and train stations, group homes, among other locations, to target vulnerable children. With the large number of individuals, children included, who use social media platforms, traffickers are recruiting through these sites, including Facebook.

Traffickers will also use peers or other classmates who become friends with the potential victim and bring them along to parties and other events to begin grooming them for the trafficker. Traffickers will often create what looks like a caring and loving relationship with their victim in order to establish trust, dependence, and allegiance, which makes their child target even more vulnerable.

Example of trafficker using recruitment to target young girls.
A man from Millington, Tennessee, was accused of trafficking girls as young as 15. He reportedly used a boy under the age of 18 to help recruit girls from local high schools. The boy was paid $20 for every $100 the girls brought in.

One of the most common variations of the relationship that a trafficker builds with their victim is a romantic relationship. Oftentimes, a trafficker will spend time slowly isolating the child and convincing that child of their love before they sell that child for sex. Young victims can also be lured into sexual exploitation and forced labor through psychological manipulation, drugs, and/or violence (U.S. Department of Education, 2015).

There are devastating consequences for minors who are victims of sex trafficking. Some of these include long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease (including HIV/AIDS), drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, and even death. Although every victim of sex trafficking has a different experience, experiences often share common aspects due to the nature of the crime. Victims of sex trafficking live under the control of their trafficker, who subjects them to fear, abuse, and denial of their basic human rights.

Using children in the commercial sex trade is prohibited both under U.S. law as well as by statute in most countries around the world. Proving force, fraud, or coercion against the pimp abusing the minor is not necessary for the crime to be characterized as human trafficking. There are no exceptions to this rule: there are the cultural or socioeconomic rationalizations that may prevent the rescue of children from sexual servitude (U.S. Department of Education, 2015).

Labor trafficking of children can take many forms, similar to labor trafficking of adults. These forms can include bonded labor or debt bondage, where the child has to work to pay off a debt that he or she has incurred, or involuntary domestic servitude, where the child is forced to work in someone’s home for long hours with little or even no pay.

Although there are certain forms of work that children may legally work in, there are legal prohibitions and widespread condemnation, against forms of slavery or slavery-like practices. Yet, these types of practices still exist as manifestations of human trafficking. A child can be a victim of labor trafficking, it does not matter the location of the nonconsensual exploitation.

There are some indicators that you could notice that may be indicative of possible labor trafficking. These include situations where the child appears to be in the custody of a nonfamily member, the child is forced to perform work that financially benefits someone outside of the child’s family, and/or the child does not seem to have the option of leaving the situation. Common industries that child labor trafficking often takes place include domestic service, agriculture work, peddling, and hospitality industries (for example, restaurants and hotels).

Traffickers often manipulate their victims into working long hours in substandard conditions with little or no pay. Peddling is also a type of child labor, although it is lessen known. Children often sell cheap goods, such as candy, magazines, or other items, where they often go door to door, standing on street corners, or in parks, regardless of the weather conditions and do not have access to food, water, or facilities.

Similar to victims of sex trafficking, victims of labor trafficking are often kept in bondage through a combination of fear, intimidation, abuse, and psychological controls. It is important to remember that child victims of labor trafficking may also be sexually abused or also a simultaneous victim of sex trafficking (U.S. Department of Education, 2015).

Breaking Down Global Estimates of Human Trafficking:
Human Trafficking Awareness Month 2022

Reviewed 2023
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
De Vries, I., & Farrell, A. (2018). Labor trafficking victimizations: Repeat victimization and polyvictimization. Psychology of Violence, 8(5), 630–638. 

Ramirez, J., Gordon, M., Reissinger, M., Shah, A., Coverdale, J., & Nguyen, P. T. (2020). The importance of maintaining medical professionalism while experiencing vicarious trauma when working with human trafficking victims. Traumatology. Advance online publication.

Reid, J. A., Baglivio, M. T., Piquero, A. R., Greenwald, M. A., & Epps, N. (2019). No youth left behind to human trafficking: Exploring profiles of risk. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 89(6), 704–715.

What are three venues where labor trafficking can occur? To select and enter your answer go to Test

Section 2
Table of Contents