Human Trafficking and Exploitation

Human Trafficking is a crime that occurs when a trafficker (who can be anyone) uses force, fraud, or coercion to control another person for the purposes of engaging in commercial sex acts or soliciting labor or services against that person’s will.

Exploitation includes taking advantage of somebody; while it is not exactly human trafficking, it is an open door to becoming trafficked. Therefore, it is important to recognize exploitation before it becomes human trafficking.

Exploitation means, “The action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work.”

Human trafficking can happen to anyone; however, traffickers often target these vulnerable populations:

  • Persons 12 to 14 years of age
  • Individuals who are addicted to drugs
  • Those who are homeless
  • Persons suffering from abuse or neglect
  • Runaways or truancy
  • Individuals in the LGBTQ+ community
  • People without documentation


Sex Trafficking
Many sex traffickers make their victims believe they are in love. They fulfill needs such as money, shelter, food, love/affection, etc. Eventually, the victim finds themselves recruited and indebted to the trafficker. Initiation of the target results in “breaking of their spirit” and desensitizing them to the acts or work they are to do for the trafficker.

There are some “red flags” that can help identify an individual who has been trafficked:

  • New, nice belongings (jewelry, cell phone, clothing)
  • Older, dominating partner
  • Signs of physical abuse (scarring, bruises, scrapes)
  • Signs of torture–cigarette burns, strangulation
  • Malnutrition, lack of hygiene
  • Anxiety, depression, paranoia/extreme fear


Labor Trafficking
Labor trafficking includes situations of debt bondage, forced labor, and involuntary child labor. Labor traffickers use violence, threats, lies, and other forms of coercion to force people to work against their will in many industries.

There are some “red flags” that can help identify an individual who has been labor trafficked, they:

  • Are not free to come and go as they please
  • Have few or no personal belongings
  • Do not have adequate living or working conditions
  • Are unpaid, paid very little, or only paid in tips
  • Work very long or unusual hours
  • Have a large debt they are unable to pay off

Common types of labor trafficking include, but not limited to:

  • people forced to work in homes as domestic servants
  • farm-workers coerced through violence as they harvest crops, or
  • factory workers held in inhumane conditions with little to no pay.

In cases of labor trafficking, consumers provide the demand and profit incentive for traffickers. These consumers can include:

  • companies that subcontract certain types of services,
  • end-consumers who buy cheap goods produced by trafficking victims, or
  • individuals who use the services of trafficking victims.

By supporting fair pay for workers and basing our purchasing choices on the fair treatment of those who make our products, consumers have the power to reduce the demand for labor trafficking.

Adapted from National Human Trafficking Hotline, 2018