Human trafficking is phrase that is used to describe the various ways in which a person “obtains or holds another person in compelled service” (U.S. Department of State, 2011, p. 9). There are several categories of human trafficking, such as forced labor, sex trafficking, and bond or debt labor. Human trafficking can affect adults and children, with the trafficking in children for sex being particularly egregious (p. 9-11). Human trafficking frequently goes unnoticed, and victims often blame themselves for their problems and therefore are unlikely to self-report (Office for Victims of Crime, n.d.).
Although many might think of this is a third world problem, human trafficking occurs in every country in the world, including the United States. It is believed about 600,000 to 800,000 victims of human trafficking cross boarders each year, and somewhere around 15,000 of them are brought to the U.S. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004). Countries are ranked in a tiered system by the State Department, with Tier 1 countries being the most proactive towards recognizing, preventing, and prosecuting these crimes, and are required to report incident numbers annually. As of 2010, Tier 1 countries reported a total of 6,017 prosecutions for human trafficking, with 3619 resulting in convictions. But more importantly, Tier 1 countries identified an astounding 33,113 number of human trafficking victims during that same year (U.S. Department of State, 2011, p. 38).
Myths and Misconceptions
There are a variety of misconceptions held by the public about human trafficking crimes that can hinder discovery. Many people believe only foreigners can be victims of this crime, but in truth anyone from any nationality can be victimized, whether they cross any borders or not. Human trafficking is also not the same thing as human smuggling. Smuggling a person involves transporting them across the borders of a country illegally, many times at the request of the person being smuggled. Smuggling, therefore, is a crime against the country being illegally entered, while human trafficking is a crime against the person being held (Polaris Project, 2006, p. 1).
Being held as a victim of human trafficking does not require “physical restraint, bodily harm, or physical force,” but can include threats or other psychological forms of control over the victim (Polaris Project, 2006, p. 1). While sex trafficking is a common form of human trafficking, it is not the only one, as in the types of cases listed in the introduction. Human trafficking is also thought to only occur in seedy, hidden locations, but in fact it can be found in legitimate businesses all around the world (Polaris Project, 2006, p. 2).
The United States defines sex trafficking as occurring when “a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or when the person induced to perform such acts is under the age of 18” (Office for Victims of Crime,...