How Victims are Trafficked

Many victims of trafficking are exploited for purposes of commercial sex, including prostitution, stripping, pornography, and live sex shows.  However, trafficking also takes place as labor exploitation, such as domestic servitude, sweatshop factories, or migrant agricultural work.  Traffickers use force, fraud, and coercion to exploit women, men, and children.

Force involves the use of rape, beatings, and confinement to control victims.  Forceful violence is used especially during the early stages of victimization, known as the "seasoning" or "grooming" process, which is used to break victims' resistance to make them easier to control.

Fraud often involves false offers that lure people into trafficking situations.  For example, women and children may reply to advertisements promising jobs as waitresses, maids, and dancers in other countries, and are then trafficked for purposes of prostitution once they arrive at their destinations.

Coercion involves threats of serious harm to, or physical restraint of, any person; any scheme, plan, or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that failure to preform an act would result in serious harm to or physical restraint against any person; or the abuse or threatened abuse of the legal process.

Debt Bondage

Victims of trafficking are often subjected to debt bondage, usually in the context of paying off transportation fees into the destination countries.  Traffickers often threaten victims with injury or death, or the safety of the victim's family back home.  Traffickers commonly take away the victim's travel documents and isolate them to make escape more difficult. 

Victims do not realize that their debts are often legally unenforceable and, in any event, that it is illegal for traffickers to dictate how they have to pay off their debts.  In many cases, the victims are trapped into a cycle of debt because they have to pay for all living expenses in addition to the initial transportation expenses.  Fines for not meeting daily quotas of service or "bad behavior" are also used by some trafficking operations to increase debt. 

Most trafficking victims rarely see the money they are supposedly earning and may not even know the specific amount of their debt.  Even if the victims sense that debt bondage is unjust, it is difficult for them to find help because of language, social, and physical barriers that keep them from obtaining assistance.

Help for Victims of Trafficking

Prior to the passage of the TVPA in 2000, no comprehensive federal law existed to protect victims of trafficking or to prosecute their traffickers.  The TVPA is intended to prevent both international and domestic trafficking, to increase prosecution of traffickers in the United States, and to protect victims and provide them with federal assistance so they can rebuild their lives. 

Victims of human trafficking who are not US citizens can be issued 'Continued Presence' status by federal law enforcement or T-visas by attorneys and then may be eligible for certification to receive benefits and assistance through the US Department of Health and Human Services.

If you are a victim of human trafficking or think you have come into contact with a victim of human trafficking, call the National Hotline at 1-888-3737-888

This hotline will help you:

  • Determine if you have encountered a victim of human trafficking.
  • Identify local resources available in your community to help victims.
  • Coordinate with local social service organizations to help protect and serve victims so they can begin the process of restoring their lives.
  • If you are a victim, this Hotline will link you to social, legal, and medical services in your area that can help you.