Terminology Utilized in Health and Human Trafficking Settings
Terminology and Descriptions of Types of Trafficking
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“Trafficking in persons,” “human trafficking,” and “modern slavery” are umbrella terms – often used interchangeably – to refer to a crime whereby traffickers exploit and profit at the expense of adults or children by compelling them to perform labor or engage in commercial sex. 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.
Human trafficking occurs when the trafficker takes any one of the enumerated Actions, and then employs the Means of force, fraud or coercion for the Purpose of compelling the victim to provide commercial sex acts or labor or services. At a minimum, one element from each column must be present to prove human trafficking.
Note that under federal law, any minor under the age of 18 years engaged in commercial sex is considered to be a victim of sex trafficking— regardless of whether there is force, fraud, or coercion.
How Trafficking in Persons Occurs
- Patronizing, Soliciting*, or Advertising a person
*for sex trafficking only
**Minors induced into commercial sex are TIP victims – regardless of force, fraud, or coercion
- Forced Labor
- Involuntary Servitude
- Debt Bondage
- Commercial Sex
Forced labor, sometimes also referred to as labor trafficking, encompasses the range of activities involved when a person uses force, fraud, or coercion to exploit the labor or services of another person.
The “acts” element of forced labor is met when the trafficker recruits, harbors, transports, provides, or obtains a person for labor or services.
The “means” element of forced labor includes a trafficker’s use of force, fraud, or coercion. The coercive scheme can include threats of force, debt manipulation, withholding of pay, confiscation of identity documents, psychological coercion, reputational harm, manipulation of the use of addictive substances, threats to other people, or other forms of coercion.
The “purpose” element focuses on the perpetrator’s goal to exploit a person’s labor or services. There is no limit on the location or type of industry. Traffickers can commit this crime in any sector or setting, whether legal or illicit, including but not limited to agricultural fields, factories, restaurants, hotels, massage parlors, retail stores, fishing vessels, mines, private homes, or drug trafficking operations.
All three elements are essential to constitute the crime of forced labor.
There are certain types of forced labor that are frequently distinguished for emphasis or because they are widespread:
- Domestic Servitude
“Domestic servitude” is a form of forced labor in which the trafficker requires a victim to perform work in a private residence. Such circumstances create unique vulnerabilities. Domestic workers are often isolated and may work alone in a house. Their employer often controls their access to food, transportation, and housing. What happens in a private residence is hidden from the world—including from law enforcement and labor inspectors— resulting in barriers to victim identification. Foreign domestic workers are particularly vulnerable to abuse due to language and cultural barriers, as well as a lack of community ties. Some perpetrators use these types of conditions as part of their coercive schemes to compel the labor of domestic workers with little risk of detection.
- Forced Child Labor
The term “forced child labor” describes forced labor schemes in which traffickers compel children to work. Traffickers often target children because they are more vulnerable. Although some children may legally engage in certain forms of work, forcing or coercing children to work remains illegal. Forms of slavery or slavery-like practices—including the sale of children, forced or compulsory child labor, and debt bondage and serfdom of children—continue to exist, despite legal prohibitions and widespread condemnation. Some indicators of forced labor of a child include situations in which the child appears to be in the custody of a non-family member and the child’s work financially benefits someone outside the child’ family; or the denial of food, rest, or schooling to a child who is working.
Sex trafficking encompasses the range of activities involved when a trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion to compel another person to engage in a commercial sex act or causes a child to engage in a commercial sex act. The crime of sex trafficking is also understood through the “acts,” “means,” and “purpose” framework. All three elements are required to establish a sex trafficking crime (except in the case of child sex trafficking where the means are irrelevant).
The “acts” element of sex trafficking is met when a trafficker recruits, harbors, transports, provides, obtains, patronizes, or solicits another person to engage in commercial sex.
The “means” element of sex trafficking occurs when a trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion. Coercion in the case of sex trafficking includes the broad array of means included in the forced labor definition. These can include threats of serious harm, psychological harm, reputational harm, threats to others, and debt manipulation.
The “purpose” element is a commercial sex act. Sex trafficking can take place in private homes, massage parlors, hotels, or brothels, among other locations, as well as on the internet.
In cases where an individual engages in any of the specified “acts” with a child (under the age of 18), the means element is irrelevant regardless of whether evidence of force, fraud, or coercion exists. The use of children in commercial sex is prohibited by law in the United States and most countries around the world.
Human trafficking can take place even if the victim initially consented to providing labor, services, or commercial sex acts. The analysis is primarily focused on the trafficker’s conduct and not that of the victim. A trafficker can target a victim after a victim applies for a job or migrates to earn a living. The trafficker’s exploitative scheme is what matters, not a victim’s prior consent or ability to meaningfully consent thereafter. Likewise, in a sex trafficking case, an adult victim’s initial willingness to engage in commercial sex acts is not relevant where a perpetrator subsequently uses force, fraud, or coercion to exploit the victim and cause them to continue engaging in the same acts. In the case of child sex trafficking, the consent of the victim is never relevant as a child cannot legally consent to commercial sex.
Neither U.S. law nor international law requires that a trafficker or victim move across a border for a human trafficking offense to take place. Trafficking in persons is a crime of exploitation and coercion, and not movement. Traffickers can use schemes that take victims hundreds of miles away from their homes or exploit them in the same neighborhoods where they were born.
“Debt bondage” is focused on human trafficking crimes in which the trafficker’s primary means of coercion is debt manipulation. U.S. law prohibits perpetrators from using debts as part of their scheme, plan, or pattern to compel a person to work or engage in commercial sex. Traffickers target some individuals with an initial debt assumed willingly as a condition of future employment, while in certain countries traffickers tell individuals they “inherited” the debt from relatives. Traffickers can also manipulate debts after the economic relationship begins by withholding earnings or forcing the victim to assume debts for expenses like food, housing, or transportation. They can also manipulate debts a victim owes to other people. When traffickers use debts as a means to compel labor or commercial sex, they have committed a crime.
Human smuggling, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is the “provision of a service - typically transportation or fraudulent documents - to an individual who voluntarily seeks to gain illegal entry into a foreign country.”
Within the U.S. criminal justice system, the term victim describes a person who has been subjected to a crime; the word serves also as a status that provides certain rights under the law. Victim is a legal definition necessary within the criminal justice system. In order to qualify for certain federal assistance through the U.S. Department of Justice or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a person who has been trafficked must be identified as a victim. However, the word does not imply weakness, assume guilt, or assign blame. Investigators and prosecutors use this term to illustrate that a crime has been committed against a person.
“Survivor” can be used as a term of empowerment to convey that a person has started the healing process and may have gained a sense of peace in their life. Community-based advocates and other similar service providers are more likely to use the term survivor. Practitioners and individuals working with victims and/or survivors must understand that the terms can be used interchangeably in a respectful way. Although practitioners and victims-survivors alike typically have a preferred term, both terms are needed and appropriate based on the context and possible requirement for a legal status. A person who identifies as a survivor may not see themselves as a victim because they have gained strength through their process of healing. Explaining the definition of victim within the criminal justice system will help the individual understand the term as a legal status, not as a label.