About human trafficking

Right now, thousands of men, women, and children in the tri-state area are being forced to work in situations ranging from domestic work to the construction, manufacturing, and sex industries. An estimated 20,000 people are trafficked into the United States every year (an estimated 700,000 are trafficked internationally), with many of them trafficked through and to New York , New Jersey , and Connecticut . New York has been identified as a major portal in this global network of modern-day slavery.

Trafficking is believed by the U.S. government to be just one activity in a series of interrelated criminal activities run by transnational organized crime networks. It is currently the third largest criminal industry in the world. Millions of men, women, and children are trafficked across borders around the world and within countries for forced labor. Despite the smaller size of U.S. trafficking rings, these multi-state criminal enterprises–both American-based groups and groups with ties outside the United States–generate millions of dollars a year. Unlike drugs or arms, humans are used as “products” that can be reused and resold.

Frequently asked questions about human trafficking
-- What is human trafficking?
-- Who are trafficking victims?
-- How do people become victims of trafficking?
-- Are people trafficked into the United States?
-- What happens to trafficking victims? Why can't they leave?
-- What is being done to stop trafficking?
-- How can I learn more about human trafficking?

What is human trafficking?
Human trafficking is defined by the United Nations “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children” (2000) as: “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

Who are trafficking victims?
Trafficking is a human rights abuse that affects people of both genders, as well as people of all sexual orientations, ages, races, ethnicities, and religions. While there is no one type of person who falls victim to trafficking, there are a number of situations that can make a person more vulnerable to trafficking. Poverty, political instability, family financial obligations, lack of access to education, chronic unemployment, gender discrimination, racism, homelessness, and a basic lack of economic opportunity are some of the main contributing factors that may place men, women, and children in vulnerable positions to be trafficked. Economic and/or political instability, in addition to the desire for a better life, also tend to produce a desire to migrate for work, which often coincides with incidences of trafficking.

The Center for Women’s Global Leadership identifies some of the main countries that tend to be “source” countries of victims of trafficking (specifically for the sex industry) as Russia, Ukraine, Poland, the Czech Republic, Thailand, Burma, Nepal, Bangladesh, Brazil, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Nigeria, and Benin. It is from these countries that women tend to be trafficked into Western Europe and the United States. There has been a large increase in women trafficked from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe who often are trafficked to Western Europe- specifically Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Greece, and Austria. Western Europe is also a major receiving area of women trafficked from Africa and Latin America. South East Asia, including China, Burma, Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, also serves as a sending source, with women being trafficked into the U.S., Australia, Western Europe, the Middle East, and Japan.

How do people become victims of trafficking?
Traffickers employ a number of different techniques to coerce, deceive, and force people into trafficking. Deceptive ads for work abroad in local newspapers, and employment and travel agencies mislead people to believe that they will be migrating for legitimate jobs. Women and children can also be sold into trafficking by family members who have been promised high profit remittances. Often family members are equally deceived about the nature of work in which the women will engage. “Mail-Order Bride” or “marriage agencies,” many of which are operated over the Internet, are other forms of recruitment. However, one of the most common methods of recruitment is through community members, friends, or past victims of trafficking themselves. Victims of sex trafficking often recruit other women as a way to work off their own debt to a trafficker. Many women are aware that they will be working in the sex industries either abroad or domestically but are not aware of the exploitative conditions in which they will work. More forceful recruitment methods such as kidnapping or drugging are also ways in which people are trafficked.

Are people trafficked into the United States?
The movement of trafficking victims within the U.S. is as complex and intricate as it is outside of its borders. Trafficking victims enter the U.S. both through legal and illegal avenues. Illegal means usually include the use of fraudulent documents or entry without inspection. Some trafficking victims are admitted to the country with legal documents such as tourist, entertainer, fiancé, or business visas. Many traffickers will confiscate a victim’s travel and identification documents once the destination country has been entered as a method of control over their victims. Americans can also fall victim to traffickers who might deceive an individual about the nature of the work they will be engaging in, or target vulnerable, young, homeless, or drug dependent individuals.

What happens to trafficking victims?
Why can’t they leave?

Victims of trafficking frequently suffer violent forms of abuse at the hands of their traffickers or those who use their labor services. Debt-servitude also places trafficking victims in situations in which they are trapped and deceived. Victims are expected to pay back exorbitant sums to their traffickers for smuggling fees, housing, doctor’s bills, and/or debt from a drug habit. Often these sums are so high that it is not realistically possible that a person could ever work them off. Traffickers may also exploit a victim’s fear to keep him or her from leaving or going to the police. Fear of deportation, fear of further sexual or physical exploitation at the hands of officials, or fear of persecution for his or her engagement in illegal activities such as sex work and/or illegal entry may keep a trafficking victim from coming forward and asking for help.

The deleterious health effects on trafficking victims can vary from exposure to deadly diseases such as HIV/AIDS, injuries or illnesses from working conditions, or depression and exhaustion. Considering that most people who are trafficked have little choice and control over their own bodies, the risk of physical and emotional harm is very high. Trafficking victims are sometimes worked or physically brutalized to death. Negative health effects are realities for victims of all forms of trafficking.

What is being done to stop trafficking?
Prior to the recent creation of international and domestic anti-trafficking treaties, little enforceable legislation existed to address the problem of trafficking. The perpetrators of the illegal trade of people often went unpunished, with crimes undetected or ignored. Victims of human trafficking themselves have often been the ones criminalized, and out of fear and/or deportation, have often been reluctant to testify against their abusers. It is often very difficult for victims of human trafficking to be detected or to be helped due to the illegal nature of their forced labor, the isolation that is imposed upon them, language and cultural barriers, and/or the illegal immigration status of many victims.

The United Nations “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons” of 2000 is the first piece of international legislation to directly address the issue of international trafficking since the 1949 “Convention for the Suppression of the Trafficking in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others .” On October 28, 2000 , the U.S. also signed anti-trafficking legislation with the “Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000.” Since this time, many other countries have adopted anti-trafficking legislation and victim assistance programs. While the efforts of some countries are proving effective, other countries are failing to implement their laws and empty promises. In some countries, corrupt law and immigration officials themselves continue to participate in the trafficking of humans or turn a blind eye to the problem in return for financial compensation.

Anti- trafficking advocacy among non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has been growing steadily since the mid-20 th century. Many U.S. and international human rights groups and NGOs are actively working to prevent and combat trafficking, detect, and assist its victims. A number of these organizations can be found in the New York area, working alongside law enforcement to try to eliminate this devastating problem that affects so many men, women, and children every day.

Check out these links to learn more about human trafficking, what is being done to fight trafficking abroad and here at home, and what you can do to help.

Safe Horizon

Andolan: Organizing South Asian Workers

The Sex Workers Project: A Project of the Urban Justice Center

International Organization for Adolescents

New York City Community Response to Trafficking

The Immigrant Women and Children Project of the New York City Bar Association

Domestic Workers United

ECPAT- End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes-USA

The Freedom Network

Report- Hidden Slaves: Forced Labor in the United States

Vital Voices

CAST: Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking

Polaris Project

Human Rights Watch

Global Rights

Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women

Human Trafficking.org

UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing The United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (PDF download)

United States Department of Justice

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner or Human Rights

International Organization for Migration

Richard, Amy O’Neill, U.S. Department of State. “International Trafficking in Women to the United States: A Contemporary Manifestation of Slavery and Organized Crime.” Center for the Study of Intelligence Report, November 1999, Section I. “Trafficking: the Global Nexus,” p. 1.

Human Rights Advocates International. “Integration of the Human Rights of Women and the Gender Perspective: Violence Against Women.” Written statement to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, January 15, 2002 .


Skrobanek, Siriporn, Nattaya Boonpakdi, and Chatima Janthakeero. The Traffic in Women: Human Realities of the International Sex Trade. 1997.

Young, Becki. “Trafficking of Humans Across United States Borders: How United States Laws Can Be Used to Punish Traffickers and Protect Victims.” Georgetown Immigration Law Journal, 13.73 (Fall 1998), p. 4.

Richard, Amy O’Neill. U.S. Department of State Report. Section III. Enticement and Deception.

United States Department of Justice. “Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000.” p. 2.

Skrobanek, Siriporn, Nattaya Boonpakdi, and Chatima Janthakeero. The Traffic in Women: Human Realities of the International Sex Trade. 1997, p. 28.