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Human trafficking is the business of stealing freedom for profit. In some cases, traffickers trick, defraud or physically force victims into providing commercial sex. In others, victims are lied to, assaulted, threatened or manipulated into working under inhumane, illegal or otherwise unacceptable conditions. It is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 24.9 million people around the world.
Force, fraud, or coercion
U.S. law defines human trafficking as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person into commercial sex acts or labor or services against his or her will. The one exception involves minors and commercial sex. Inducing a minor into commercial sex is considered human trafficking regardless of the presence of force, fraud or coercion.
In 2017, Polaris worked on 8,759 cases of human trafficking reported to the Polaris-operated National Human Trafficking Hotline and BeFree Textline. These cases involved 10,615 individual victims; nearly 5,000 potential traffickers and 1,698 trafficking businesses. Human trafficking is notoriously under reported. Shocking as these numbers are, they are likely only a tiny fraction of the actual problem.
Human trafficking can happen to anyone but some people are more vulnerable than others. Significant risk factors include recent migration or relocation, substance use, mental health concerns, involvement with the children welfare system and being a runaway or homeless youth. Often, traffickers identify and leverage their victims’ vulnerabilities in order to create dependency.
Perpetrators of human trafficking span all racial, ethnic, and gender demographics and are as diverse as survivors. Some use their privilege, wealth, and power as a means of control while others experience the same socio-economic oppression as their victims. They include individuals, business owners, members of a gang or network, parents or family members of victims, intimate partners, owners of farms or restaurants, and powerful corporate executives and government representatives.
Traffickers employ a variety of control tactics, the most common include physical and emotional abuse and threats, isolation from friends and family, and economic abuse. They make promises aimed at addressing the needs of their target in order to impose control. As a result, victims become trapped and fear leaving for myriad reasons, including psychological trauma, shame, emotional attachment, or physical threats to themselves or their family.