Human trafficking in the US is the forced movement of persons for labor or sexual exploitation. Trafficked individuals have their freedoms stripped from them, either by way of servitude or debt bondage. Americans and foreign persons alike are victims of human trafficking in the US, most commonly young women forced into prostitution. There are however highly exploitive trafficking arrangements that enslave people of all ages into forced labor or indebtedness to the trafficker.
What are indicators of trafficking?
In exploitive labor situations, there are a number of warning signs that indicate that the individual is being exploited. These include:
- Garnishment of wages to pay unspecified debts
- Lack of freedom of movement
- Not allowed to attend social functions
- Deprivation of life necessities by employer
- Travel and identification documents in the possession of another
Victims of human trafficking in the US report threats of violence by the employer or trafficker as well as threats made against their family, either in the US or abroad, to dissuade them from leaving or seeking help. Contact is cut off with friends and family, to avoid the victim from appealing for help and the victim is also usually forced to lie to law enforcement if necessary, to protect the trafficker.
Does smuggling count as human trafficking in the US?Under the current definition of trafficking by the US Department of Homeland Security, smuggling is considered a voluntary arrangement where the smuggler is paid to transport individuals into the US. They then, at that point, should be free to pursue employment or move about as they please. A smuggling arrangement can become human trafficking if the smuggler decides to force the individuals into labor or sexual exploitation and/or garnishes their wages to repay the smuggling debt. The garnishment of wages alone does not constitute human trafficking, but it is often indicative other exploitive practices on the part of the employer or smuggler.
How does the federal government enforce laws against human trafficking?
Federal laws against human trafficking are found in Title 18, Chapter 77 of the US legal code and contain specific sections against:
- 1581 – peonage or debt servitude
- 1584 – involuntary servitude
- 1589 – forced labor
- 1951 – trafficking of children
- 1592 – seizure of documents
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement typically investigates allegations of human trafficking by dismantling organizations that engage in human trafficking in the US and partner with local law enforcement to free victims of human trafficking.
How does coercion factor into human trafficking in the US?
Almost all human trafficking arrangements involve a level of coercion that keeps the victims in bondage. Especially in instances where the trafficked victim is a non-English speaker or unfamiliar with the United States, the trafficker maintains leverage over the victim through this disadvantage. In this way, the victim is coerced in a dependent relationship with the trafficker, necessitating outside intervention to break this relationship. Federal law enforcement relies on tips from local law enforcement and concerned individuals that identify human exploitation.