What Is Human Trafficking

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International Trafficking

Human trafficking affects every country around the world, regardless of socio-economic status, history, or political structure. Human traffickers have created an international market for the trade in human beings based on high profits and demand for commercial sex and cheap labor. Trafficking affects 161 countries worldwide.

An estimated 20.9 million men, women and children are trafficked for commercial sex or forced labor around the world today. Victims are trafficked both within and across international borders. Migrants as well as internally displaced persons are particularly vulnerable.

There is a growing recognition of the links between labor trafficking, regulation of supply chains, and the power of the consumer to end widespread exploitation by choosing goods that aren’t tainted by forced or child labor. The US Department of Labor has identified 122 goods produced with forced labor, child labor, or both,

The US Department of State publishes a report every year assessing human trafficking on a global scale. The 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report) can be found here.

Click here for reports, referrals to international anti-trafficking organizations and agencies, and additional information.

Recognizing the Signs

Are you or someone you know being trafficked? Is human trafficking happening in your community? Knowing the red flags and indicators of human trafficking is a key step in identifying more victims and helping them find the assistance they need.

To request help or report suspected human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Or text INFO or HELP to us at: BeFree (233733).

Common Work and Living Conditions: The Individual(s) in Question

Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)
Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior
Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
Avoids eye contact
Poor Physical Health
Lacks health care
Appears malnourished
Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
Lack of Control
Has few or no personal possessions
Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)
Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
Loss of sense of time
Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story
This list is not exhaustive and represents only a selection of possible indicators. Also, the red flags in this list may not be present in all trafficking cases and are not cumulative. Learn more at www.traffickingresourcecenter.org.

Interested in learning more about slave labor?
Department of Labor’s list of goods produced by child labor and forced labor
Ethical Trading Initiative is a ground-breaking alliance of companies, trade unions and voluntary organizations that work in partnership to improve the working lives of poor and vulnerable people across the globe who make or grow consumer goods
ANGELS IN THE FIELD provides consumers with information on how products relate to modern-day slavery
What We Buy Campaign shows that slavery can occur at different stages, from the production of raw materials to the manufacture of goods
Make sure to explore our featured organizations to see how you can either get involved or become inspired to expand your own work.
Human Trafficking Search is filled with news reports, articles, and practitioner guides on 120 countries and in 14 languages that will help you become aware and take action. Please check out our Featured Resources to find one specific to your needs. Remember Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. The International Labor Organization estimates that globally, traffickers make $150 billion dollars per year by exploiting men, women, and children for labor, services, and commercial sex. Human trafficking cases can be difficult and expensive to investigate and justice in these cases can be elusive. Thus, policymakers must ensure that law enforcement have the right tools to combat this crime. Examples of some of these tools include: use of criminal enterprise statutes, authorization to intercept communications, and asset forfeiture.


Criminal Enterprise Statutes
Criminal enterprise statutes refer to laws that facilitate the investigation and prosecution of crimes committed by a group of individuals. These statutes typically take the form of racketeering statutes or gang offense statutes. At the federal level, human trafficking offenses have been incorporated into the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute, which allows for any member of a criminal enterprise, regardless of that person’s role within the enterprise, to be charged with racketeering. Racketeering statutes make investigating cases with multiple perpetrators more efficient. RICO has been used successfully by the Department of Justice to bring down trafficking rings. Many states have followed the federal example and designated human trafficking offenses as a racketeering offense, allowing investigators to pursue an investigation of all members of a criminal enterprise. Successful prosecution of a racketeering case can lead to increased penalties.

Some states have street gang statutes, which make the crime to knowingly aid street gangs engaging in criminal activities a felony. Gang offense statutes, similar to racketeering statutes, allow for law enforcement to hold all members of a gang accountable for their actions regardless of which offenses an individual member participated in. Several states have incorporated human trafficking offenses into the state gang offense statute, recognizing the increasing number of people trafficked by street gangs.

Interception of Communications
Telecommunications networks are used by traffickers to facilitate their criminal activity. Authorizing the interception of these communications (via a wiretap) provides law enforcement with valuable evidence that can later be used in prosecutions. Use of this type of evidence can reduce risk to law enforcement because officers will not necessarily have to make direct contact with perpetrators. Evidence obtained through wiretaps also reduces the need for victim witness testimony, which is safer and less traumatic for victims. Current federal law and many states have authorized the interception of communications during human trafficking investigations.

Asset Forfeiture
Asset forfeiture is a powerful tool used by law enforcement following a successful investigation. Forfeiture ensures that traffickers do not financially benefit from the exploitation of their victims by authorizing the state to seize the assets that are used for or are the result of criminal activity. Currently, forty-one states and the District of Columbia have authorized asset forfeiture for human trafficking offenses. The federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) also provides for asset forfeiture. The Uniform Law Commission (ULC) included a section on asset forfeiture in its Uniform Act on the Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking (Uniform Act). The Uniform Act, which is drafted and approved by legal experts from across the country, reinforces the need for these types of statutes and serves as a recommendation for states that have not yet enacted this type of legislation.

The Uniform Act provides:

Section 11. Forfeiture

(a) On motion, the court shall order a person convicted of an offense under Section 3, 4, or 5 of this [act] to forfeit:

(1) Any interest in real or personal property that was used or intended to be used to commit or facilitate the commission of the offense; and
(2) Any interest in real or personal property constituting or derived from proceeds that the person obtained, directly or indirectly, as a result of the offense.

(b) In any proceeding against real or personal property under this section, the owner may assert a defense, and has the burden of establishing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the forfeiture is manifestly disproportional to the seriousness of the offense.

(c) Proceeds from the public sale or auction of property forfeited under subsection (a) must be distributed in the manner otherwise provided for the distribution of the proceeds of [criminal forfeitures] [judicial sales].

Once assets are forfeited, the money can be used by states to fund state action to combat the crime. Many states authorize that forfeited assets be given to the law enforcement agency that investigated the crime, which can then be used to pay for more investigations. States also authorize money from forfeited assets to be deposited into a fund that is used to pay for victim services.

The challenges for investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases can be more easily overcome when investigators and prosecutors have the right tools. Successful cases against traffickers are needed to achieve justice for victims and to begin to eradicate this crime.

Sex Trafficking of Minors and “Safe Harbor”

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Child victims of human trafficking are forced, induced, or coerced into providing labor, services, or commercial sex. A trafficked child may be compelled to engage in illegal activities such as prostitution or the selling of drugs, and instead of being treated as victims, many are treated as criminals and are prosecuted accordingly. Prosecution can further traumatize the victim as well as leave him or her with a profound distrust of law enforcement, which can prevent victims from seeking assistance. Furthermore, the criminal record that results from being prosecuted can act as a barrier to future employment and other opportunities. Thus, it is necessary for states to enact laws that both protect and assist children that have been exploited for labor or sex. The laws that provide this type of protection are called safe harbor laws.

What a Safe Harbor Law Does
Safe harbor laws were developed by states to address inconsistencies with how children that are exploited for commercial sex are treated. Under federal law, a child under eighteen that is induced into providing commercial sex is a victim of trafficking and must be treated as such. State laws criminalize adults that have sex with children under statutory rape laws, however these laws were not applied in cases where the adult purchased sex. The result was children, recognized under both state and federal law as victims of a crime, were arrested and convicted of prostitution. Safe harbor laws are intended to address the inconsistent treatment of children, raise awareness about children that have been commercially sexually exploited, and ensure that these victims were provided with services rather than a criminal conviction.

Fundamentally, safe harbor laws have two components: legal protection and provision of services. The legal protection component provides immunity from prosecution for certain types of offenses because the child was induced or compelled to commit the offense or an established diversion program that affords a means for charges to be dismissed if the child completes a specialized services program. The services component of safe harbor requires that specialized services be made available to survivors. Services should include medical and psychological treatment, emergency and long-term housing, education assistance, job training, language assistance, and legal services. Ultimately, both components are necessary to reduce trauma and provide a path to recovery.

Current Safe Harbor Policy
Currently, state safe harbor laws vary significantly. All of the states that have passed safe harbor legislation have limited the scope of the protections to children that have been commercially sexually exploited (CSEC). Unfortunately, this means that safe harbor provisions are applicable only to children that have engaged in commercial sex, thus the legal protections offered apply to prostitution and prostitution-related crimes. Among the states that have enacted safe harbor laws, fifteen provide “full” safe harbor (both legal protection and services) and seven states provide either one or the other.

Most state safe harbor laws define a “minor” by specifying a maximum age under which a victim will be decriminalized. Such provisions reflect the presumption that minors who have participated in criminal activity have done so as a result of having been exploited and sexually abused. The most protective age-based statutes for minors have adopted immunity for children under the age of eighteen for prostitution offenses. These states create a system where a child can be detained and then referred to a designated agency in the state for services. In a less protective approach, some other states only provide immunity for children under a certain age (typically fourteen or fifteen) or for first time offenders. CSEC victims who do not receive immunity are diverted from criminal proceedings to a services program and charges against the child are dismissed when he or she successfully completes the program.

Most states provide services to CSEC victims through the state child welfare system. Typically, children identified as a victim of commercial sexual exploitation are designated as a child in need of supervision or a dependent child, allowing the state child welfare system to intervene and provide assistance to the child. In other states the agency that oversees juvenile justice is designated to provide assistance to victims of CSEC.

Policy Considerations
One of the key safe harbor considerations is whether a state will create immunity from prosecution or create a diversion program. Although experts disagree on which model is best, Polaris believes that the combination of immunity and services provides the most legal protection and goes the furthest to ensure a victim of CSEC is entitled to the benefits of a victim. The determination to pursue immunity versus diversion will likely influence other considerations states must make when drafting safe harbor laws, including the most appropriate agency to provide services and the facilities used to provide housing and care.

The preference for immunity is reflected in recent action taken by the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) and the American Bar Association (ABA). In 2011, the ABA House of Delegates passed a resolution urging states not to charge child trafficking victims with prostitution and related offenses but to instead provide services. In 2013, the ULC released the Uniform Act on Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking (Uniform Act). This guide for state legislators provides language drafted and adopted by lawyers from across the country that can serve as a basis for state legislation. The Uniform Act clearly and unequivocally recommends the immunity model for child victims of trafficking. The ABA House of Delegates endorsed the Uniform Act shortly after it was adopted.

Language from the Uniform Act on Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking (Act):

Section 15. Immunity of a Minor

(a) An individual who was a minor at the time of the offense is not criminally liable or subject to [juvenile delinquency proceeding] for [prostitution] and [insert other non-violent offenses] committed as a direct result of being a victim of human trafficking.

The Uniform Act also broadens the scope of safe harbor to protect not only children who have been commercially sexually exploited, but also recognizes that child victims of labor trafficking are forced to commit crimes during the course of their exploitation and should be provided with the same protections as victims of CSEC.

Safe harbor legislation can be complex to draft due to the number of state entities involved in a successful safe harbor plan and because there are differing opinions on the best way to provide services. Polaris is eager to support the evolving best practices in this area of anti-trafficking law.