Definitions of Human Trafficking with Examples in Chaplain Settings

Human Trafficking is a crime that involves exploiting a person for labor, services, or commercial sex.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its subsequent reauthorizations define human trafficking as:

  1. Sex trafficking - the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting 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 induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age. (22 U.S.C. § 7102(11)(A) (12)); or
  2. Labor trafficking - 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 (22 U.S.C. § 7102(11B))

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act defines “commercial sex act” as “any sex act on account of which anything of value is given or received by any person.” – from 22 U.S.C. 7102 (4)

“Anything of value” can include but is not limited to food, shelter, transportation, clothing, drugs, alcohol, cell phones, or money.

The two main types of human trafficking in the U.S. are sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The Department of Defense has had cases of both types of trafficking

  1. Forced labor includes labor trafficking in construction work, food services, hospitality services, janitorial services, landscaping services, beauty salons and other labor-intensive industries.
  2. Sex trafficking includes any commercial sex act compelled by force, fraud, or coercion. Victims of sex trafficking can be found anywhere, but are often found in street prostitution, bars, brothels, dance clubs, strip clubs, massage parlors, spas, escort services, private parties, the pornography industry, and on the internet. In sex trafficking, when a person younger than 18 is used to perform a commercial sex act, it is a crime regardless of whether there is any force, fraud, or coercion involved.

The definition of human trafficking has three main elements – the “Actions,” the “Means” to carry out the Actions, and the Purpose of the Action and Means. Sometimes victims of human trafficking do not realize they are victims.

How Trafficking in Persons Occurs

  • Recruiting
  • Harboring
  • Transporting
  • Providing
  • Obtaining
  • Patronizing, Soliciting, or Advertising a person*

*for sex trafficking only



  • Force
  • Fraud
  • Coercion

**Minors induced into commercial sex are victims of sex trafficking regardless of whether there is any force, fraud, or coercion.

For Purpose of
  • Forced Labor
  • Involuntary Servitude
  • Debt Bondage
  • Slavery
  • Commercial Sex

Oftentimes survivors do not self- identify as trafficking victims. They may not know the legal definition of trafficking. They may not understand what constitutes force, fraud, or coercion. If you ask survivors, “Were you trafficked?” they may say, “No.” However, if you ask if someone (their pimp, boyfriend, employer, or another person) hit them, beat them, or hurt them to force them into commercial sex or labor, they may understand that they are a victim. Below are some examples of force, fraud and coercion that may help a victim or survivor understand what has happened to them:

  1. Force includes physical restraint, physical harm, sexual assault, and beatings. Monitoring and confinement is often used to control victims, especially during early stages of victimization to break down the victim’s resistance.
  2. Fraud includes false promises regarding employment, wages, working conditions, love, marriage, or better life. Over time, there may be unexpected changes in work conditions, compensation or debt agreements, or nature of relationship.
  3. Coercion includes threats of serious harm to or physical restraint against any person, psychological manipulation, document confiscation, and shame and fear-inducing threats to share information or pictures with others or report to authorities.