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What exactly is human trafficking?

The topic of human trafficking has been on my personal radar for a little over 2 years now. It’s gone from being a heartbreaking issue that I used to hear about on the news to an evil that is personal to me, that I now can’t help but fight against. A lot has changed since I was first appalled by watching the movie Taken. A whole lot. I’ve learned that human trafficking isn’t just some vile notion in a movie plot. In fact, it’s hardly at all like the movies. It isn’t something that just happens internationally or in mafia rings (although it can be part of that.)  I’ve come to know that it’s not only real, but it happens right here in my country, my state, my hometown, every single day. I’ve learned that often, it’s much less about a person being kidnapped and much more about a person being coerced and manipulated. I’ve learned that a person doesn’t have to be taken over a border –or anywhere else–in order to be trafficked… it can happen right in their very own home by people who are supposed to be their protectors and defenders. I’ve learned that this modern-day slavery is often more about layers and layers of psychological bondage and rather than the metal shackles we picture when thinking about slavery as we’ve known it in our history books.

So what is human trafficking, really? You may not know this, but our nation’s law gives us a real working definition, that includes the fact that human trafficking is modern-day slavery. In the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act of 2000* (TVPA), it states:

b) FINDINGS.—Congress finds that: (1) As the 21st century begins, the degrading institution of slavery continues throughout the world. Trafficking in persons is a modern form of slavery, and it is the largest manifestation of slavery today.

Trafficking in persons is another phrase for human trafficking. Its legal definition is:

   The term ‘‘severe forms of trafficking in persons’’ means—

(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 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.

Notice the terms force, fraud, or coercion. These three words are key to the definition of human trafficking.

Force. That one is easy to understand. Someone holds a gun to your head. Someone beats you. Someone locks you up. They’ve used physical force against you to get what they want.

Fraud. You’ve been tricked. You signed up for a day labor job or to be trained as a nanny. But when you arrive you realized there never was such a job. You are now made to work 16 hours a day without pay, or to prostitute yourself or strip in a nightclub. You’re the victim of fraud, because the situation is not what you were told it was.

Coercion. This one may be the hardest for us to really understand. The actual definition** of the word coerce is:


1. to compel by force, intimidation, or authority, especially without regard for individual desire or volition

2. to bring about through the use of force or other forms of compulsion; exact

3. to dominate or control, especially by exploiting fear, anxiety, etc.

So, you’ve been told that you’ll be beaten severely or killed if you try to leave, or if you tell anyone. Your family will be killed, and they know where your family lives. They videotaped you, and if you tell anyone, they’ll show the video to everyone you know. They remind you that you’ve got no place to go, and how if you left you’d be back out on the street with no food, no shelter, nothing and no one. They’re the best chance you’ve got. And you start to believe it. You’ve been coerced and manipulated.

All three of these things: force, fraud, and coercion, are means by which men, women, and children are trafficked. Most of the time all of these things are present, resulting in layers upon layers of physical, emotional, and psychological trauma that breaks down their defenses until they feel hopeless. Then the trafficker has them exactly where they want them.

So what next? What is the experience like for people who are trafficked? I myself cannot explain it thoroughly. I can only relate the stories I have heard, have been told, and have read second-hand. But the stories are real, and the experiences are truly terrifying. They are beyond what people living in safe, resource-rich lives can even imagine. But we can listen to their stories. We can hear—really hear—their voices crying out for hope and prevention and restoration. We can use these stories to fan the flame of righteous anger on their behalf, and decide that we will no longer allow this to happen right under our noses. We can allow that righteous anger to compel us to act, to speak out for the ones who haven’t yet found their voice.

How exactly do we do that? Believe it or not, there are really countless ways! In my next post, I will give a list of resources to educate yourself and to get involved on local and national levels. For now, you can start by memorizing the national hotline number (1-888-3737-888) and visiting the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s page to learn more. With this hotline number, you can call (and now even text “BEFREE”) to give tips when you see signs that make you suspect trafficking is happening. Don’t be shy about calling. You may save a life today.

More to come….

*Also known as the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, retrieved from:  http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/10492.pdf

** Definition of coerce, retrieved from: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/coerce


One thought on “What exactly is human trafficking?

  1. Pingback: What can be done about Human Trafficking? | Pray, then learn

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