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*Part One of a four-part series

 ~by Amy Lynn Burch

Originally published on March 11, 2012 @ 8:42pm

Human trafficking is the intentional exploitation of another human being for profit and is the modern day version of slavery.  Trafficking in humans is a massive problem which transcends socioeconomic boundaries in virtually every community worldwide. According to Frank E. Loy, Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs, the ever increasing trend of modern day slavery commonly referred to as human trafficking began in the very early 1990’s and has escalated to nearly incalculable proportions. According to research, the majority of humans trafficked whether domestically or globally are children between the ages of seven and 17 with a disproportionate number of the victims being female.

Globally, human trafficking is an ever increasing problem, however; in the United States human trafficking has reached epidemic proportions.  Specifically, the sexual exploitation of women, children, and an unspecified number of men who are trafficked within the United States each year has rapidly outpaced other forms of criminality since 1997 with the United States ranked second only to Germany in the trade of “sexploitation”. According to The Polaris Project, the number of trafficking victims in the United States is largely unknown. Even so, hundreds of thousands of United States citizen minors are estimated to be at risk of commercial sexual exploitation.

Trafficking Defined

The term “human trafficking” is somewhat deceptive because it implies the movement of persons.  This is not necessarily the case.  Human trafficking is divided into two parts:  (1) sexual; and (2) labor. The international definition of human trafficking as respects sexual activity adopted by the United States Congress is:

“the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person forced to perform such an act is under the age of eighteen years old or: 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.” (VTVPA, 2000).

Unfortunately, in respect to the sexual element of trafficking, this definition does not include those persons over the age of 18 who are forced into sexual slavery.  The assumption of this definition is that those persons, primarily women, over the age of 18 that are involved in the sex trade are doing so by their own will. Sadly, in most cases this is not reality. Although it is true that children between the ages of seven and 13 years of age are the primary targets of sex traffickers, women between the ages of 21 to 50 are also targets for sexual traffickers at the global level.

Trafficking vs. Smuggling

In the past, law enforcement has used the terms “smuggling” and “trafficking” interchangeably but there are remarkable differences that are important to understand.


  • is VOLUNTARY and usually involves illegally crossing a national border.
  • is ALWAYS international in nature.
  • ENDS after a border has been crossed.
  • is a crime against NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY.
  • is NOT voluntary.
  • does NOT require physical movement of a person.
  • can and often DOES occur domestically.
  • involves the DELIBERATE exploitation of a person or persons.
  • is a VIOLATION of the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution which ensures that all persons are free from involuntary servitude.

* SOURCE: Department of Defense. Trafficking In Persons (TIP).

Truth vs. Myth

Within the United States prostitution is the most common form of human trafficking and is unfortunately accepted by our society as non-combatable. The act of selling sex (prostitution) is an illegal act which is considered “deviant behavior” punishable in most states by fine or jail-time with the exception of Nevada.  What many do not understand is that the majority of those involved in prostitution do so against their will.  The statistics regarding prostitution and those involved by force are truly staggering.  The majority of participants are: children and young teens between the ages of seven and 13have abusive backgrounds to include some 41% who have experienced an incestuous relationship with their fatherare homeless and desperate for basic needsare mistrustful of authority figures due to repeated abuse; and die on average of 8 years after having been trafficked.

The term prostitute is not only derogatory by implying consent of the victim but it also criminalizes the victim to the exclusion of the client more commonly referred to as a “john” and utterly ignores the role of the trafficker, or “pimp”. From a legal perspective, the weight of criminal punishment has fallen on the shoulders of the victim often attaching to them a long trail of criminal history.  For far too long victims of human trafficking have been marginalized by law enforcement and treated as criminals rather than as victims.  Whether intentional or not, by referring to the trafficked as prostitutes and ignoring how they came to the so-called sex trade, law enforcement often only perpetuate sexual crimes committed against women and children brought to the industry against their will.  For this to change the law must change but first, the issue of human trafficking and what it entails must be clearly identified.

*Don’t miss Part Two: The Mind of the Trafficker to be published next week.



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Burch, A. (2012). National Reintegration Center for Human Trafficking Victims. Victimology, University of Maryland.

Department of Defense. Trafficking In Persons (TIP). https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:oHNSkT1L6UYJ:ctip.defense.gov/docs/training-TIP-LE.ppt+&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESg6JaJ3DPziU8gqTAA31kyq6box8Z5fT1SO-Yhn_7lZxr2gEc4uukZrkG9tU61msAniABD-OzAQ4sRVI_QTZJ2G5bXR0XbvUfmZIPzsEBxfImoEz95Ei-HlOKyhhMYv90zuNqDh&sig=AHIEtbS1sM0WRpwxpK5xC8lkHcCTvMr_gQ&pli=1.

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International Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. http://www.uncjin.org/Documents/Conventions/dcatoc/final_documents_2/convention_%20traff_eng.pdf

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Polaris Project. (no date). Domestic Sex Trafficking: The Criminal Operations of the American Pimp. A Condensed Guide for Service Providers and Law Enforcement. http://www.dcjs.virginia.gov/victims/humantrafficking/vs/documents/Domestic_Sex_Trafficking_Guide.pdf

ProCon.org. http://prostitution.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000119 

State Department Annual Trafficking In Persons Report (2004).

Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA).

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).

US Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking/about/victim_assist.html

Williams, L.M., & Ngo, J.M. (2007). Human Trafficking. In C.M. Renzetti and J.I. Edelson (Eds) Encyclopedia of Interpersonal Violence, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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