Human trafficking, also known as modern-day slavery, is the third-largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world.
Trafficking occurs in almost every country, although some countries are the primary sites of origin, transit, or destination. Most victims come from impoverished or war-torn nations in Central and South America, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa. These victims often come from vulnerable populations such as migrants, runaways, displaced persons, or the poor. An estimated 800,000 to 900,000 people are trafficked each year; 18,000-20,000 of those end up in the United States.
Human trafficking has victimized millions of people and reaped billions of dollars in profits. It is one of the most urgent human rights issues in the world today. Human trafficking may take many forms, including forced prostitution or labor in factories, agriculture, restaurants, and domestic servitude, where victims may be forced to work as housekeepers or nannies. Some may be forced to marry.
Traffickers often control their victims with psychological or physical abuse. Many also use financial circumstances as a means of control. Traffickers range from individuals to families, or more organized groups of criminals.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has produced a Toolkit to Combat Trafficking in Persons (PDF). The toolkit is intended to increase awareness and to help policymakers in national governments, criminal justice systems, law enforcement agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and intergovernmental organizations to understand and respond effectively to human trafficking.
In some cases, smugglers, who are sometimes referred to as coyotes, offer undocumented immigrants the promise of a safe passage into the United States for a fee. However upon arrival they increase the fee, forcing the victim to work off the unpaid debt. It may be difficult for law enforcement and victim service providers to determine whether a case is one of smuggling or trafficking.
According to the UNODC toolkit, "Smuggling of migrants and human trafficking both involve moving human beings for profit. However, in the case of human trafficking, two additional elements beyond smuggling must be present: there must be some improper form of recruitment, such as coercion, deception or some abuse of authority; and the activity must have been undertaken for some exploitive purpose, although that purpose need not necessarily have been fulfilled."
To report suspected trafficking contact
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Office of Refugee Resettlement
Human Trafficking Referral Hotline
Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Helpline Task Force