Is human trafficking the same thing as slavery?

Many people refer to human trafficking as modern-day slavery.  Although it is not the same as the transatlantic slave trade that flourished prior to the Civil War, there are many similarities in how victims are treated.

What is the actual definition of human trafficking?

The definition comes from the Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act (2000, 2003, 2005, 2008) which defines “severe forms of trafficking” as:

a. sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or

b. the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Note that a victim need not be physically transported from one location to another in order for the crime to fall within these definitions.

I’ve seen a lot of different statistics about the scope of human trafficking.  Why don’t we have consistent numbers?

Human trafficking is very difficult to quantify.  It is an underground crime and traffickers go to great lengths to keep their victims isolated so that the crime is not discovered.  North Carolina Coalition Against Human Trafficking and NC Stop Human Trafficking members rely on statistics compiled by the Department of State (some of which originate in other sources, such as the International Labor Organization), the FBI, and a 2001/2 study published by Dr. Richard Estes at the University of Pennsylvania.

  • 12.3 million adults and children are in forced labor and/or forced prostitution around the world.
  • 600,000-800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year.
  • 14,500-17,500 of those international victims enter the United States.
  • Almost 25% of those international victims end up in the Southeastern United States.
  • Between 100,000-300,000 minors are at risk of commercial sexual exploitation.

What kinds of cases are we seeing in North Carolina?

We have seen all kinds of human trafficking cases in North Carolina.  We have seen cases of labor trafficking and sex trafficking, with victims who are foreign adults, foreign minors, domestic adults and domestic minors.  These cases have included labor trafficking for agricultural work, domestic servitude, and forced prostitution, among others.

In 2010, 38% were sex trafficking cases, 38% were labor trafficking and 23% included elements of both sex and labor trafficking.  These statistics are derived from several NCCAHT member agencies working under a grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Campaign to Rescue & Restore victims of human trafficking, so they do not represent all the cases of human trafficking that are occurring in our state, but do represent those cases that are being handled by a subset of NCCAHT member agencies.

How do you identify a trafficking victim?

There are many examples of red flags or indicators of potential trafficking situations.  Just a few include:

  • Whether the individual(s) can leave or come and go as they please
  • Whether the individual is under 18 and is engaged in commercial sexual activity
  • Whether the individual works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Whether there are unusual physical security measures present, such as bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, constant surveillance, etc.
  • Whether the individual avoids eye contact or does not seem to be allowed to speak for themselves
  • Whether the individual is in control of his/her own identification documents
  • Whether the individual seems to have local knowledge and be aware of his/her location

You can get more extensive information and learn about additional red flags by consulting the Resources page at [].

What should I do if I suspect a potential human trafficking situation?

If there appears to be imminent or immediate danger, call 911.  Even if your local law enforcement has not yet received training on human trafficking, they are trained to deal with emergencies.

If it is not an emergency situation, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-3737-888.  This is the national, toll-free hotline, available to answer calls from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  Call takers are trained to assess and properly refer case reports and hotline staff are multi-lingual.

The NHTRC refers calls to North Carolina through NCCAHT’s rapid response protocol system.

What efforts are being made to train law enforcement?

In North Carolina, the 2011 law enforcement in-service training offers a 4-hour block of human trafficking training which was developed by the North Carolina Justice Academy.  Three NCCAHT members trained 99 certified law enforcement trainers to deliver this curriculum.

Beginning July 1, 2011, a mandatory 2-hour instructional block of human trafficking training was added to the standard Basic Law Enforcement Training state curriculum.  North Carolina is one of the first states in the country to require mandatory human trafficking training for all new police officers and sheriff’s deputies.

What happens to the trafficker when a victim is rescued?

It depends.  The trafficker can be prosecuted under federal or state anti-human trafficking statute, both of which treat human trafficking as a felony.  Sometimes they are prosecuted under other related charges in addition to or instead of human trafficking.  In some cases, the trafficker cannot be identified or located even though the victims are identified and provided services.

What happens to the Johns?

The buyers/users of prostituted adults and minors (sometimes known as johns) are sometimes arrested on charges of procuring, soliciting or engaging in prostitution, or related charges.   National research demonstrates that individuals accused of providing commercial sexual activity are arrested at disproportionately higher rates than buyers.

Promoting prostitution of a minor is a Class C felony.  Patronizing a minor who is being prostituted is a Class F felony.

If the act of prostitution involves adults, the john/buyer, and any third-party (e.g. a “pimp” or “madam”) are guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.  The charge usually results in a fine and/or unsupervised probation.  If the subject spends any time in jail prior to the court date, they’re usually sentenced to time served.  The human trafficking charge, however,  makes it much more serious for the pimp or madam as they would now be charged with the felony of human trafficking.  There is not currently a felony charge for the Johns who engage in prostitution with a trafficked victim, unless that victim is a minor.

Sex trafficking, regardless of whether the victim is a minor or an adult, is a felony.

If a minor agrees to engage in commercial sexual activity, why is it crime and why is s/he considered a victim?

The human trafficking statutes state that anyone under the age of 18 is legally a victim of sex trafficking.  The law concludes that a minor is not capable of consenting to commercial sexual activity, so a minor engaged in commercial sexual activity is a victim of sex trafficking.   Thus, the terms “child prostitute” or “juvenile prostitution” are inaccurate and should instead be replaced with “minor victim of sex trafficking.”

Would we be able to reduce trafficking if we legalized prostitution?

There is a substantial amount of disagreement about this.  Many people note that jurisdictions with legal prostitution also have higher rates of trafficking.  Others dispute this conclusion.  There seems to be some evidence that the Swedish model– which criminalizes buying sex but decriminalizes it for the prostituted men and women as well as offering them services – has resulted in a reduction of both prostitution and sex trafficking.

Isn’t labor trafficking just illegal immigration?

No.  Smuggling and trafficking are different, although there have been cases of smuggling that have turned into human trafficking.

Smuggling assumes some level of consent and willingness on the part of the person that is being smuggled; labor trafficking requires the use of force, fraud or coercion.  Smuggling is a violation of national boundaries; labor trafficking does not require actual movement and is a violation of one’s human rights.

Doesn’t an undocumented immigrant deserve to be trafficked, since they’re already breaking the law?

No.  No one deserves to be forced, defrauded or coerced into providing labor or commercial sex of any kind.  Victims are protected under the law whether they are documented or undocumented.

Do people ever pretend to be trafficked so they can get a green card?

We are aware of no evidence of anyone fraudulently claiming to be trafficked to achieve immigration relief.  Applications for immigration remedies for human trafficking victims require evidence and documentation, often including cooperation with law enforcement.  It is unlikely that a person who is not really a victim could adequately meet the requirements.

How do the Secure Communities program or the 287(g) program affect trafficking?

Both of these programs are partnerships between local and state law enforcement agencies and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Currently all 100 North Carolina counties participate in Secure Communities.  When a suspect is arrested on felony charges or on some misdemeanor charges, their fingerprints are shared with the State Bureau of Investigation, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.  Under Secure Communities, the FBI automatically forwards the fingerprints to ICE.  If a suspect is identified as an undocumented immigrant, ICE determines what, if any, immigrant enforcement action to take.

287(g) creates the opportunity for state and local law enforcement agencies entity to enter into a partnership with ICE where the agency is delegated authority for immigration enforcement in their jurisdiction.  Basically it permits state and local law enforcement officers to act as federal immigration agents.

There are disagreements within law enforcement community and in the broader community about whether these initiatives have an impact on human trafficking.  Some believe that it hinders efforts to reduce trafficking because it makes immigrant communities more reluctant to report crimes and potential crimes due to potential ICE involvement.  This increases vulnerability not just to trafficking, but also to other crimes.  Others think that more trafficking cases might be identified through these enforcement mechanisms.

Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill finds that 86.7% of individuals booked through the 287(g) program were charged with misdemeanors, the majority of which were driving-related misdemeanors.  This is counter to ICE goals which state that the program should prioritize high risk immigrant criminals for deportation.

Is there a connection between human trafficking and military bases?

Military bases are one of the risk factors that create a vulnerability to trafficking.  Around bases, particularly large bases (of which North Carolina has several), there is an increased amount of business providing what is sometimes called “adult entertainment,” or some level of commercial sexual activity.

It is difficult to identify what percent of the demand for commercial sex is met by victims of sex trafficking, but it is believed that an increase in the demand for commercial sex of any kind can increase instances of sex trafficking in any given area.

In addition, UN Peacekeepers were implicated in human trafficking in Bosnia.  The New Yorker recently reported allegations of third-country nationals being trafficked to work on US military bases in Iraq.

Why doesn’t the federal government do more to stop it?

The federal government has many initiatives targeted to eradicate human trafficking.  However, it is not simply a problem of the federal government or even of state and local government or law enforcement; it is also a local problem.

A large number of people are employed in careers where they might encounter human trafficking victims including, but not limited to, first responders, public health professionals, social service providers and school resource officers.  All professions need to include training and education about human trafficking in their educational curricula and certification requirements.

In addition, we are all complicit in human trafficking as we rely on cheap goods produced by vulnerable laborers and ignore the commercial sexual exploitation that occurs in our communities.  Ending human trafficking requires the effort of every single one of us.

Can I meet/talk to a victim/survivor?

It is unlikely.  There are survivors who have progressed enough in their healing and recovery process to speak publicly about their experiences.  Otherwise, it would be rare for community members to be in circumstances where they would knowingly be in conversation with a survivor.  It is very difficult for survivors to return to security and stability and the effort requires the support of experienced professionals.  Some nonprofits do train volunteers to support survivors in some limited ways when that is seen as an appropriate response to the survivor’s needs.

Please remember that victim/survivors are just people and, just like everyone else, do not always want to be labeled and identified by their victimization.

What are the needs of victims/survivors?

There is a continuum of needs.  Every human trafficking case is different and each survivor has different needs.   These might include immediate crisis response, emergency or on-going health care, mental health therapy and counseling, clothing, shelter, interpretation, legal advocacy, job retraining and more.  Social service providers who work with human trafficking victims perform needs assessments to ascertain what services are required for each client.

I want to build a shelter – how do I start?

Although shelter is one of the key needs of human trafficking victims across the country, and certainly in North Carolina, providing shelter services to human trafficking survivors is extremely complex and can be dangerous.  It is important to consult a professional specifically trained to work with these populations before even considering a project of the complexity and magnitude of starting a shelter.

If you are interested in funding a shelter, contact the North Carolina Coalition against Human Trafficking [] to be connected with an experienced service provider who can talk with you about such a project.

I want to house trafficking victims in my home; is that possible?

It is very unlikely that human trafficking victims would be housed in private homes.  There are often continuing safety and security risks.  In addition, human trafficking victims are often highly traumatized and generally require sustained care from trained providers.

How can a community member help stop human trafficking?  How can I get involved?  What can I do?

Community members and interested individuals can play an important role in working to end human trafficking.  NC Stop Human Trafficking [] is a statewide coalition that helps support the advocacy and volunteer efforts of community and civic groups, faith-based groups and individuals.  Please join NC Stop Human Trafficking if you are interested in contributing to this work in North Carolina.

Begin by educating yourself.  Then, help educate and inform others:  host a discussion group or film screening, invite a local expert to speak to your community or faith-based group, or organize an event for January 11 (National Day of Human Trafficking Awareness).  NC Stop Human Trafficking can provide and/or recommend speakers.

Correct those who use terms such as “child prostitute” or “juvenile prostitute.”  Challenge language and images that glorify pimp culture.  Recognize that all immigrants are not undocumented and that all victims are entitled to protection under the law.

If you are involved in an organization or profession that might encounter a trafficking victim (health care, sexual assault, homeless shelter, etc.), encourage staff and coworkers to learn how to recognize and assist trafficking victims.  The NCCAHT training team is made up of experienced trainers who will assist you or connect you with other appropriate trainers.

Help publicize the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline:  1-888-373-7888

Help survivors develop economic independence by purchasing survivor-made goods.  Patronize companies who support anti-trafficking efforts.  Buy fair trade.

Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, create a blog, or write your local and state representatives to call their attention to the problem and urge them to act.

Ask your local library to have books and films about human trafficking available for its patrons.

Identify local agencies and non-profits that provide services to human trafficking survivors and prioritize them in your philanthropic giving.


Updated 8.29.2011