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Trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring, provision, receipt, transportation and/or obtaining of individuals by using force or threats, coercion, fraud and/or using systems of indebtedness or debt bondage for purposes of economic exploitation that can include forced labor for domestic, industrial, agricultural or sex work; prostitution, pornography and sex tourism; removal and sale of organs; fraudulent adoptions; servitude, including servile marriages; and slavery.

Trafficking is fueled by demands for cheap, exploitable labor which have increased with globalization – which permits the free flow of capital but not labor. Some countries view trafficking as the only form of migration available to labor because all other sources are restricted or closed. They advocate safe migration as the way to halt trafficking. Complex ‘push-pull’ factors influence those who are trafficked, including economic factors such as paying off family debts, escaping poverty, remitting earnings, or escaping gender violence in the hopes of greater safety.

2016 Statistics on Trafficking

  • 7,572 trafficking cases were reported to trafficking hotlines operated by the Polaris Project, a 35% increase from 2015.
  • Of these, 73% were sex trafficking cases, and 14% were labor trafficking cases.
  • Of victims who were identified or described, 83% were female and 29 were minors (male or female).
  • Of victims whose race/ethnicity was known, the second largest group was Asian, at 23% (after Latino, at 33%).
    Polaris Project: 2016 Hotline Statistics 
“Survivors play a key role in elevating understanding and awareness of human trafficking, improving service delivery, and informing policy.”

Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the U.S. 2013-2017 (2014)

Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking predominantly victimizes women and significant numbers of male and female children. It relies on the exploitation of female poverty and the impunity of male demands for commodified sex. Political positions about sex trafficking are cause for heated controversy because they are connected to positions that argue for abolishing, decriminalizing or legalizing prostitution. We recommend that advocates become informed about these positions when working with anti-trafficking programs.

Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST)

is defined as the commercial sexual abuse and exploitation of minors through buying, trading or selling their sexual services. A commercial sex act refers to anything of value – money, drugs, food, shelter, rent, higher status in a gang – exchanged for sex. Purposes include: street prostitution; escort services; internet-aided prostitution; performing in strip clubs, massage parlors, peep shows; and/or pornography where a minor is sold, rented, or provided something of value to perform sex acts on camera.

Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC)

refers to a range of crimes including:

  • Recruiting, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing, obtaining, and/or maintaining a minor for the purpose of sexual exploitation,
  • Exploiting a minor through prostitution,
  • Exploiting a minor through survival sex,
  • Using a minor in pornography,
  • Exploiting a minor through sex tourism, mail order bride trade, early marriage, and
  • Exploiting a minor by having her/him perform in sexual venues.

Resources on Trafficking

Webinars on Survivor-Centered, Trauma-Informed Advocacy for Trafficking Survivors

a. Advocacy & Services for Trafficking Survivors, 2014: A comprehensive overview of sex and labor trafficking – actions/means/purposes, data, root causes, traumas and oppressions, help-seeking, legal remedies, cross-systems trauma-informed collaboration.

b. Supporting Domestic Trafficking Survivors, 2015: Two national experts, Tina Frundt and Elisabeth Corey, lay the foundations for understanding domestic minor sex trafficking, followed by the traumatic impacts of victimization and operationalizing trauma-informed responses within new and existing advocacy structures and partnerships.

c. The Culture of Family-Controlled Trafficking, 2016: Elisabeth Corey reaches into her story to teach us about the traffickers, the enablers, and the family on the outside and inside that operate family-controlled trafficking; and how survivors can be helped.

Other Resources

See our Trafficking Resources List (2016) for additional resources from NGOs, governmental agencies, healthcare and legal services, and other sources.

National Human Trafficking Hotline
Call 1-888-373-7888 or text “BeFree” (233733)

Beating Trauma: Elisabeth Corey, a survivor of family-controlled sex trafficking, shares her experiences and path to recovery as part of her mission to empower survivors and build awareness.

Courtney’s House: an organization helping minors escape and heal from trafficking.

Freedom Network USA: a coalition of experts and advocates providing direct services to trafficking survivors.

Office on Trafficking in Persons (OTIP): National Human Trafficking and Technical Assistance Center: delivers training and technical assistance to inform and enhance the public health response to human trafficking

Polaris Project: combats trafficking by disrupting networks.

Shared Hope International: works to prevent sex trafficking and restore and bring justice to women and children who have been victimized through sex trafficking.

U.S. Department of State: Annual Trafficking in Persons Report

VAWnet: Special collection on Human Trafficking (2014)

Walking Prey: How America’s Youth are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery (2014) by Holly Austin Smith: a nonfiction book about the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), including child trafficking, in the U.S.