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What is human trafficking?

What is Human Trafficking?

What is the difference between a trafficker and a pimp?

What is Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking?

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery. This crime occurs when a trafficker uses force, fraud or coercion to control another person for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or soliciting labor or services against his/her will OR when the person induced to perform the act is under 18 years old. A commercial sex act means any item of value is traded for any sexual service (prostitution, pornography, or sexual performance).  

What is Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking?

What is the difference between a trafficker and a pimp?

What is Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking?

 Domestic minor sex trafficking is the commercial sexual exploitation of American children within U.S. borders for monetary or other compensation (shelter, food, drugs, etc.). This is synonymous with child sex slavery, sex slavery, child sex trafficking, prostitution of children, and commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). 

What is the difference between a trafficker and a pimp?

What is the difference between a trafficker and a pimp?

What is the difference between a trafficker and a pimp?

Nothing. A pimp is another name for a trafficker. A trafficker/pimp is any person who causes an adult (using force, fraud or coercion) or any minor to engage in commercial sex in order to profit from the exploitation of that individual.

Who buys sex?

How does pornography affect the trafficking industry?

What is the difference between a trafficker and a pimp?

The buyers of sex from juveniles can be anyone – professionals, students, tourists, military personnel, a family member. Because buyers often pay in cash and may interact with a victim for as little as five minutes, buyers are increasingly difficult to identify. 

How does pornography affect the trafficking industry?

How does pornography affect the trafficking industry?

How does pornography affect the trafficking industry?

  It’s hard to determine if the person engaging in pornographic behavior is a willing participant or forced to participate against their will. 

1. Viewing pornography may be a solo act; however, the production of the material and the social and relational consequences of the behavior extends far past the individual. 

2. Children and adults endure brutal rape and abuse at the hands of pornographers and may require years of specialized therapy to heal from the intense trauma inflicted on them. 

3. The effects of pornography can skew the viewer’s perception of healthy sexual behavior and boundaries, impacting the viewer’s personal relationship with a spouse or significant other. 

4. Trafficked women and children may face an increased risk of violence or degradation due to the normalization of deviant sex acts propagated through pornography.

Who are the victims?

How does pornography affect the trafficking industry?

How does pornography affect the trafficking industry?


The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally, with hundreds of thousands in the United States. The victims of this crime in the U.S. are men and women, adults and children, and foreign nationals and U.S. citizens. It affects every community in the United States no matter the age, gender, ethnicity or socio-economic backgrounds. 

There is no single profile for trafficking victims. 

Traffickers target victims using tailored methods of recruitment and control they find to be effective. We’ll further discuss the recruitment process as we dive deeper into the workshop.

No one is exempt.

Do you know what to look for?


Everyone has the potential to discover a human trafficking situation. While the victims may sometimes be kept behind locked doors, they are often hidden right in front of us. Traffickers’ use of coercion –such as threats of deportation and harm to the victim or their family members –is so powerful that even if you reach out to victims, they may be too fearful to accept your help. Knowing indicators of human trafficking and some follow up questions will help you act on your gut feeling that something is wrong and report it. 

While not an exhaustive list, these are some key red flags that could alert you to a potential trafficking situation that should be reported:

1. Living with employer

2. Poor living conditions

3. Multiple people in cramped space

4. Inability to speak to individual alone

5. Answers appear to be scripted and rehearsed

6. Employer is holding identity documents0

7. Signs of physical abuse

8. Submissive or fearful

9. Unpaid or paid very little

10. Under 18 and in prostitution

If you are concerned that a child may be a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.Any child induced to perform a commercial sex act is a victim of trafficking. Children made to work against their will (such as farm labor, domestic servitude or factory work) are victims of human trafficking. 


Control tactics and grooming

Trafficker use a variety of control tactics.

Trafficker use a variety of control tactics.

Trafficker use a variety of control tactics.



1. Physical & emotional abuse.

2. Sexual assault.

3. Confiscation of identification & money.

4. Makes promises based on victim’s needs. They will get to know the victims and prey on your vulnerabilities to create dependency.

5. Renaming victims and branding them (tattoos) as their properties.

6. Isolating victims from their family members and members of their ethnic and religious community.

7. Threatening to shame victims by exposing their circumstances to their family

8. Using debt bondage (e.g., imposing financial obligations, convincing victims they are honor-bound to satisfy debt)

What is Grooming

Trafficker use a variety of control tactics.

Trafficker use a variety of control tactics.



Grooming is the process traffickers use to control and manipulate someone into human trafficking. Although the specific actions are different, traffickers usually follow the same steps: gain the victim’s trust, provide for the victim’s needs, isolate the victim, force the victim into trafficking.

Who is targeted for grooming?

Traffickers target those who are vulnerable and in need. This can be anything from a physical need such as money to an emotional need such as attention. Traffickers make themselves appear trustworthy and gain their victims’ trust before they turn on them. For instance, many traffickers appeal to young women by showering them with romantic attention. The trafficker will then later ask for favors to pay back for all their “niceness.”

What are some signs that someone is being groomed?

  • New things: Traffickers often shower their victims with gifts like a new phone or expensive clothes. Look for someone having lots of nice, new things out of      the blue. Pay close attention if they won’t tell you where the gifts came from.
  • Attitude and behavior change: Traffickers do their best to manipulate the feelings and emotions of their victims. They start out being overly nice and slowly transition into aggressive behaviors, leaving the victim confused and frustrated. Look for someone who is suddenly moody for no apparent reason.
  • New  friends and disconnecting: A trafficker’s ultimate goal is to isolate the victim. Traffickers want their victims to feel like they have no one to turn to as they are forced into trafficking. Look for someone who is hanging out with a new friend group and is distant even when with their close friends and family.

How does it happen?


Street Prostitution



The Internet is the number one method, in the U.S., for the buying and selling of children and women for sex. There are several ways to disguise the reality of trafficking on the internet, such as putting of fronts (escort services, massage services, live video chat, pornography, i.e.). Sex trafficking is alive and thriving on websites such as backpage.com, eros.com, and myredbook.com. Ads may appear to be posted independently, but are actually written and paid for by a pimp or trafficker.


Street Prostitution



Pornography is directly linked to sex trafficking. Pimps can use it as training and desensitization for the children and women to prepare them for prostitution. Also, as the industry of pornography continues to grow, the demand for women and children grows as well. This leads to an increase in the trafficking of people, to meet the demand. Consumers of porn are typically unaware that much of it is a result of trafficking. In fact, it is nearly impossible to distinguish between an independent porn star and a trafficked person. Pornography, inevitably, increases the demand for prostitution, which leads to more women and children being trafficked for this purpose.

Street Prostitution

Street Prostitution

Street Prostitution


 Due to the increase in Internet prostitution, street prostitution now makes up only 10-20% the sex trade. However, it does still exist. For example, in the city of St. Louis street prostitution still occurs along the riverfront and south of downtown. Trafficked victims usually have a daily quota to meet–either a specific amount of money ($500-$1,000) or provide services to a set number of men. In most circumstances, the money is then pocketed by the pimp.

Strip Clubs

Residential Brothels & Hotels/Motels

Street Prostitution


Although strip clubs are considered “victimless” entertainment, the reality is that many of the workers are forced to participate in stripping, dancing, and other acts to service the customers of the club. Stripping or exotic dancing is used to desensitize trafficked victims to the world of prostitution. VIP rooms or special services may provide by trafficked women–or even children. Organized crime is also known to be linked to these strip clubs. Often, victims are threatened and told that they owe a debt to the organization. This forces them to be there, working for the organization. Also within strip clubs, daily quotas often exist, when traffickers force the victim to make a certain amount of money (typically $500-$1,000), and then pocket the cash for themselves.

Truck Stops

Residential Brothels & Hotels/Motels

Residential Brothels & Hotels/Motels


 Interstates are one of the main ways that traffickers traffic their victims. Because of this, truck stops are a prime place for the buying and selling of children and women. There is certain terminology and language used by truckers and the code is especially communicated using CB radios, or flashing headlights and stickers on trucks. 

Residential Brothels & Hotels/Motels

Residential Brothels & Hotels/Motels

Residential Brothels & Hotels/Motels


Sex trafficking occurs when women and children live on-site at the brothel, which are commonly residential homes, apartments, condos, and trailers. The victims are forced to perform commercial sex services for 20-48 men, daily. Traffickers often manipulate victims psychologically, for example, by pretending to be their boyfriend. Recruitment can also take place by falsely promising a job to a victim. Such jobs may include waitressing, modeling, and other seemingly legitimate jobs. Traffickers also use the tactic of unfamiliarity to work in their favor. For example, a victim will be transported from one location to another, without having any sort of chance to gain a feel for their surroundings. This leaves one even more disoriented and confused than to begin with. With victims who are not U.S. citizens, often times their immigration documents will be confiscated so that they are left completely dependent and unaware of any way to try and escape.

 Hotels & Motels: One front in this battle has been the hotel industry. Traffickers like to use hotels to ply their trade, since they can get in and make some money and then move on before they attract too much attention. When an older man or woman checks in with younger women who don’t appear to be his or her children—they speak a different language, they’re distant from him, they look dazed or afraid, or if they’re made up to look older than they really are—that often means the women are not there willingly 

Boys the silent victims...

Sex Trafficking & Boys


Male victims come from similar backgrounds as female victims, often raised in broken families with a history of neglect and abuse, with at least 70 percent having experienced sexual abuse as children, LGBTQ youth, who are more likely to be kicked out of their homes due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, may comprise about one-thirds of this population, according to the John Jay study.

Survival Sex & Boys

Male victims see themselves as heterosexual and although they engage in sexual activities with men they do it as a means for survival. Once on the streets, they are lured into prostitution not only by pimps, but also by friends through peer networks that may stand to earn cash for “helping them out,” which confuses the cycle of exploitation.

One 18-year old male from the John Jay study said that although he was heterosexual, he slept with men to sustain himself: 

“I just gotta do what I gotta do and so I can eat every day. I don’t like the fact that I have to be with another man, just to survive. That’s what I hate the most.”

Online Exploitation

3 out of 4 children and youth are being exploited online every day. Boys are bought and sold in both online and offline venues such as clubs and bars and websites such as backpage.com. Buyers are mostly white and upper-middle class men, and are often professionals with lots of flexibility in their schedule, however, 40 percent of the boys in the John Jay study also reported that they had served a female client.

The Waiting List. Male victims of trafficking also face a severe lack of aftercare and reintegration services, which may include both short-term and long-term housing options, education and job placement programs, and mental health services. Most shelters are 90 days and after their time has expired, they often time have to reside with friends until their name comes back up on the list. Which could possibly mean going back to the environments in which they came out of.

Funding Is an Issue

One of the biggest misconceptions about human sex trafficking is that victims report the crime. Not so. It’s quite hard to get an accurate number of cases due to a variety of reasons. For instance, law enforcement view the victims as willing participants due to the nature of the crime. The insensitivity towards the victims contributes to their unwillingness to come forward and seek help. If victims are reluctant to report the crime it affects funding. Without more concrete numbers on male victims of trafficking, funders may be unwilling to donate to shelters specifically tailored for their needs.


Youth Homelessness & Sex Trafficking

Homeless Youth Are Prime Target


Traffickers target homeless youth. The trafficking of young adults isn't only a problem in developing nations. In the U.S. and Canada, nearly one-fifth of homeless youth are victims of human sex trafficking, according to new studies. A new study suggested that the key to ending sex trafficking among young people is to end homelessness first. 

Homeless youth are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking. Based on a study released by Covenant House as well as the Field Center for Children's Policy, Practice & Research at the University of Pennsylvania and Loyola University Modern Slavery Research, New Orleans in which they interviewed 911 homeless young people across 13 cities in the United Stated and Canada. Researchers concluded that 56% of homeless transgender youth had been involved in the sex trade, while 40% of homeless young women and 25% of young men were. About 27% of L.G.B.T youth reported experiences consistent with the U.S. federal definition of sex trafficking. Nearly one-fifth of homeless youth in the United States and Canada are victims of human trafficking, including those trafficked for sex, labor, or both. Many factors contribute to the overall number of homeless youth, however common reasons are family dysfunction, exiting the child welfare or juvenile justice system, and sexual abuse.

Research has shown that 21-42% of runaway and homeless youth were sexually abused before they left their homes. These young people often flee abuse and violence at home, but are further exposed to sexual victimization and sex trafficking on the street. Less than 4% of all adolescents exchange sex for money, however 28% of youth living on the street and 10% of those in shelters engage in what's called survival sex.

Survival sex is prostitution engaged in by a person because of their extreme need. It describes the practice of people who are homeless or otherwise disadvantaged in society, trading sex for food, a place to sleep, or other basic needs, or for drugs. I've discovered that youth are seeking what we all seek—shelter, work, security—and that trafficker’s prey on those very needs. We can end youth homelessness in the United States. We must care about the future of our young people and invest in their educational and employment needs. Instead of cutting programs that are in place to help the victims of sex trafficking, we must exercise our common right to insure that our government invest in the future of our children. Sex trafficking victims are not given a choice to participate. They are coerced and taken advantage of based on desperation.


Learn More

Visit our Online Resource Center for help.

Internet Safety

Protect Yourself: Online Safety

As stated before, the internet is the number one method of sex trafficking. There are precautions we can take to protect ourselves from traffickers who look to recruit and prey on young girls and boys every day. 


Myths and Misconceptions

True or False?

There are plenty of myths about human trafficking—what it is, who can be trafficked, what happens to trafficked people. To effectively combat human trafficking, we have to first understand what human trafficking is. When clouded or biased by misconceptions about the definition of trafficking, our ability to respond to the crime is reduced. It is important to learn how to identify and break down commonly-held myths and misconceptions regarding human trafficking and the type of trafficking networks that exist in the United States. Here are some of the most common misconceptions:

Myth #1 Trafficked persons can only be foreign nationals.

The Reality: The federal definition of human trafficking includes both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. Both are under the federal trafficking statutes and have been since the TVPA of 2000. Human trafficking within the United States affects victims who are U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, visa holders, and undocumented workers.

Myth 2: Human trafficking is a crime that must involve some form of travel, transportation.

The Reality: Trafficking does not require transportation. Although transportation may be involved as a control mechanism to keep victims in unfamiliar places, it is not a required element of the trafficking definition. Human trafficking is not synonymous with forced migration or smuggling, which involve border crossing.

Myth 3: Human trafficking is another term for human smuggling.

The Reality: Smuggling is a crime against a country’s borders: human trafficking is a crime against a person. Each are distinct federal crimes in the United States. While smuggling requires illegal border crossing, human trafficking involves commercial sex acts or labor or services that are induced through force, fraud, or coercion, regardless of whether or not transportation occurs.

Myth 4: There must be elements of physical restraint, physical force, or physical bondage.

The Reality: Trafficking does not require physical restraint, bodily harm, or physical force. Psychological means of control, such as threats, fraud, or abuse of the legal process, are sufficient elements of the crime. Unlike the previous federal involuntary servitude statutes (U.S.C. 1584), the new federal crimes created by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 were intended to address “subtler” forms of coercion and to broaden previous standards that only considered bodily harm.

Myth 5: Victims of human trafficking will immediately ask for help.

The Reality: Victims of human trafficking often do not immediately seek help or self-identify as victims of a crime due to a variety of factors, including lack of trust, self-blame, or specific instructions by the traffickers regarding how to behave when talking to law enforcement or social services. It is important to avoid making a snap judgment about who is or who is not a trafficking victim based on first encounters. Trust often takes time to develop. Continued trust-building and patient interviewing is often required to get to the whole story and uncover the full experience of what a victim has gone through.

Myth 6: Human trafficking victims always come from poverty or from small rural village.

The Reality: Although poverty can be a factor in human trafficking because it is often an indicator of vulnerability, poverty alone is not a single causal factor or universal indicator of a human trafficking victim. Trafficking victims can come from a range of income levels, and many may come from families with higher socioeconomic status.

Myth 7: Sex trafficking is the only form of human trafficking.

The Reality: The federal definition of human trafficking encompasses both sex trafficking and labor trafficking, and the crime can affect men and women, children and adults.

Myth 8: Human trafficking only occurs in illegal underground industries.

Reality: Trafficking can occur in legal and legitimate business settings as well as underground markets. Human trafficking has been reported in business markets such as restaurants, hotels, and manufacturing plants, as well as underground markets such as commercial sex in residential brothels and street based commercial sex.

Myth 9: Trafficking victims are made aware.

The Reality: Initial consent to commercial sex or a labor setting prior to acts of force, fraud, or coercion (or if the victim is a minor in a sex trafficking situation) is not relevant to the crime, nor is payment.

Myth 10: Foreign national trafficking victims are always undocumented immigrants.

The Reality: Not all foreign national victims are undocumented. Foreign national trafficked persons can be in the United States through either legal or illegal means. Although some foreign national victims are undocumented, a significant percentage may have legitimate visas for various purposes.

Myth: 11 Only Women Are Trafficked

Men and young boys are also trafficked, and they often get much less attention then trafficked women do. In part, that’s because it’s very difficult to get young boys out of trafficking, especially sex work, because the activity generates the kind of quick money that cannot be made anywhere else. Men and boys often remain invisible in the trafficking dialogue, or it is assumed they are only trafficked for labor.