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What is Human Trafficking?


Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the exploitation of others. Human traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion against victims to manipulate them into engaging in commercial sex acts, or labor/services in exchange for something of monetary value (money, safety, transportation). When victims of human trafficking are minors, force, fraud, or coercion is not necessary. Generally, we think of victims of trafficking as foreign born, but often they are U.S. citizens. There is also not a requirement of transportation in human trafficking.

Human trafficking is considered to be one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world. Currently, it is second only to drug trafficking and produces $32 billion of annual revenue worldwide (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime [UNODC], 2012).

What is sex trafficking?

Sex trafficking includes commercial sexual exploitation of children, as well as every instance where an adult is in the sex trade as the result of force, fraud, or coercion.

Sex trafficking can occur within numerous venues:

  • Streets
  • Hotels and motels
  • Truck stops
  • Online escort services
  • Online websites such as and
  • Brothels
  • Massage parlors
  • Migrant camps
  • Restaurants

What is labor trafficking?

Labor trafficking occurs when a person is controlled through force, fraud, or coercion into providing labor or services for the economic advantage of the trafficker. Such labor and services can include domestic work at a private residence, farm labor, factory work, restaurant work, nail salons, etc.

Who are traffickers?

Human traffickers are people who control, sell, or transport others to be commercially exploited for labor or service through force, fraud or coercion (or are minors) and people who purchase those who are commercially exploited for sex acts, or labor services. They could be:

  • Pimps
  • Women
  • Under the age of 18
  • Family members of the victim
  • Involved in gangs, narcotics and other criminal activity
  • Smugglers
  • Employers at legitimate businesses
  • People who purchase sex acts

Who are victims?

While trafficked individuals in the United States can be any gender, age, or race, certain populations are at increased risk of trafficking due to the environments from which they come:

  • Youth who have run away from home or been kicked out of home
  • Homeless population
  • People who have been sexually and/or physically victimized in the past
  • Foreign nationals who are here for work
  • People who live in extreme poverty
  • Refugees
  • Migrant workers
  • People who have been smuggled into the country
  • People with cognitive disabilities
  • People with mental health issues
  • People who have been trafficked in the past

Numerous counties across Pennsylvania are involved in efforts to help people who are victimized through trafficking and hold traffickers, and people who benefit from trafficking, accountable for their crimes. To learn more about efforts in your area, contact your local rape crisis center.

Indicators of human trafficking

Physical signs

  • Tattoos, brands, or scarring indicating ownership
  • Injuries from beatings, weapons, or torture
  • Signs of malnourishment
  • Fear, anger, sadness, grief, or no emotion

Social signs

  • Youth involved in street begging
  • Prostitution involving a child
  • Adult prostitution that involves a third party (pimp) is highly indicative of the use of force, fraud, or coercion
  • Parent or older sibling involved in prostitution
  • Chronic runaways
  • Youth living on the street or with adults who have "taken them in"
  • Truancy from school or not attending or enrolling in school
  • Not allowed to freely contact friends and family
  • Lives with other children and adults being commercially sexually exploited (hotels, motels, apartments, houses, etc)
  • Have children they are denied access to by pimps/traffickers
  • Isolated from the community
  • Women or girls driven to migrant camps on payday
  • Massage parlors where women live on premises and/or are not seen coming or going freely
  • Debt bondage (an individual must work to pay off their debt or the debt of family members)

What to do

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 (TTY: 711), text 233733, or chat live online at

For additional information and resources on human trafficking, visit the Blue Campaign at