The words 'human trafficking' are used to address a variety of different issues. Trafficking can include the transportation of human beings across international borders who are then exploited throughout many different industries including agriculture, domestic servitude, and labor in virtually all sectors, including sex work. In 2000, the Trafficking Victim's Protection Act (TVPA) was passed in the US, and the definition of trafficking was expanded to include those who are born and exploited here in the United States. My work and experience is devoted to domestic born sex trafficking of both minors and adults.
A note about data & statistics:
The anti-trafficking movement is new, and many are working very hard to learn how to collect data & demographics on those affected. Many of the numbers I have come across, upon further research, do not originate in research that stands up to the scientific method. Therefore I cannot, in good conscience, use these numbers on my site. What is clear, is that sex trafficking victims have been identified in every state in the US, and present in virtually every age group, from children to adults.
According to state and federal law, there are two ways to categorize people who participate in some form of transactional sex: victims of trafficking, or criminals – adults found to be selling sex who do not have a trafficker are often charged with California Penal Code 647(b) (solicitation).
In my work, I like to break these two categories into four, in order for people to better understand how the law works.
In the table above, all categories in blue are considered victims of human trafficking; they are not to be criminalized (although they often are). The category in purple represents those who are considered to be in violation of the law, and may be charged with 647(b).
This may seem confusing, that minors can be victims of trafficking, even if they do not have an identified trafficker. The assumed goal is they are to be offered services, and not criminalized when they are often under the age of consent.
Traffickers use force, fraud, and/or coercion in order to exploit their victims.
Many people who have not experienced trafficking will be tempted to ask why a person would not simply ask for help. Although this seems like a natural reaction, traffickers are brilliant at creating scenarios where asking for help seems even more detrimental than complying with the trafficker's orders. For more in-depth stories and information, check out the blog.
There are some trafficking cases that begin with kidnapping, although most I have worked with over the years begin with fraud (see below). Force is often used as a method of control, and to create a trauma bond between perpetrator and victim. Similar to domestic violence, force is used to create submission and fear in the victim.
Most of the cases I have seen over the years start with fraud; either a fraudulent romantic interest, a fraudulent business opportunity (such as modeling offers), or friendship. Usually, the exploiter will pretend to be the potential victim's boyfriend or girlfriend in order to learn their secrets, isolate them, and eventually coerce them into transactional sex of some sort.
Traffickers use coercion in an infinite number of ways. Often, they blackmail their victims, using their secrets against them, threatening to tell friends and family about shameful aspects of themselves if they do not comply with the traffickers orders. Another method used is to be very generous in the beginning; the trafficker offers a runaway a place to stay, or buys a potential victim expensive gifts, and then tells them they need to contribute in return.