The Invisible Crime

It’s called the invisible crime.  The $32 billion annual human trafficking industry coerces approximately 20 to 30 million adults and children into the sex trade or indentured servitude each year. What many Americans do not realize is just how prevalent human trafficking is right here in the U.S. and how varied the victims are.
Trafficking cuts across gender and ethnicity, with some victims being brought to the U.S. with false promises of a better life. Others are vulnerable U.S. citizens who have been coerced or manipulated into indentured servitude. Human trafficking is the third largest international crime industry and an estimated 14,500 to 17,500 victims are trafficked into the U.S. each year.
Human trafficking is present when a person is recruited, harbored, provided for or obtained for the purposes of exploitation — often sold as chattel property.  According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, trafficking victims, two-thirds of whom are female, are recruited by means of force, fraud, or coercion and are often subjected to sexual servitude or compelled to perform manual and service labor. Under U.S. law, any minor under the age of 18 engaging in commercial sex is a victim of sex trafficking, regardless of the presence of force, fraud, or coercion.

More Individuals are Being Trafficked Today Than at Any Other Point in History

Though the institution of slavery has been banned across the globe, more than 29 million people are living in forced servitude, the greatest number in recorded history. Trafficking laws vary from state to state, with victims often being arrested and treated like criminals, reinforcing their belief that the police can’t be trusted. Advocates are calling for a “Uniform Law,” one that will allow all agencies to properly identify victims, provide rehabilitative services, and prosecute traffickers.

Some 15,000 people are trafficked each year right here in the U.S. and they’re most likely working for you. According to, there’s a good chance that a number of trafficking victims have contributed to making the food you eat, the clothes you wear and the laptop on which you’re reading this story. Find out how many slaves you employ by taking the Slavery Footprint quiz and then learn how you can urge major retailers to be more transparent.


The Statistics

  • Human trafficking is the third largest international crime industry (behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking). It reportedly generates a profit of $32 billion every year. Of that number, $15.5 billion is made in industrialized countries.
  • Globally, the average cost of a slave is $90.
  • There are approximately 20 to 30 million slaves in the world today.
  • According to the U.S. State Department, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, of which 80% are female and half are children.
  • Between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year.
  • According to some estimates, approximately 80% of trafficking involves sexual exploitation, and 19% involves labor exploitation.
  • The average age a teen enters the sex trade in the U.S. is 12 to 14 years old. Many victims are runaway girls who were sexually abused as children.
  • California harbors 3 of the FBI’s 13 highest child sex trafficking areas on the nation: Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.
  • The National Human Trafficking Hotline receives more calls from Texas than any other state in the US. 15% of those calls are from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
  • The Super Bowl has the largest annual incidence of human trafficking in the U.S. One rescued trafficking victim states that she was expected to sleep with approximately 25 men per day during such events.

Assisting a Victim is Easier than You Might Think

Learn to Recognize the Red Flags. The following is a partial list of potential red flags and indicators of human trafficking and modern slavery. If you recognize any of these signs, please call 1-888-373-7888 to report a situation to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline. A number of organizations, including the Polaris Project, Not for Sale and the Project to End Human Trafficking, are also working to put an end to modern-day slavery.

The presence of these red flags is an indication that further assessment may be necessary to identify a potential human trafficking situation. This list is not exhaustive and represents only a selection of possible indicators. Also, the red flags in this list may not be present in all trafficking cases and are not cumulative. Indicators reference conditions a potential victim might exhibit.

A person may be trafficked if he or she:

  • Cannot leave his or her job to find another one
  • Does not have control over his or her wages or money
  • Works but receives little or no pay
  • Has no choice about hours worked or under what conditions
  • Shows signs of physical abuse or injury
  • Is accompanied everywhere by someone who speaks for him/her
  • Appears to be fearful of or under the control of another person
  • Has health issues that have not been attended to
  • Owes money to an employer or another person whom s/he feels bound to repay
  • May describe moving or changing jobs suddenly and often
  • Is unfamiliar with the neighborhood where they live or work
  • Is not working in the job originally promised to him/her
  • Is travelling with minimal or inappropriate luggage/belongings
  • Lacks identification, passport or other travel documents or does not have control over his or her documentation
  • Does not have control over his or her finances
  • Provides sexual services in a strip club, massage parlor, brothel or other locations and has a manager or pimp
  • Is a laborer, domestic servant or caretaker but never leave the home or workplace
  • Is unable to freely contact friends or family
  • Is not allowed to socialize or attend religious services
  • Has restricted freedom of movement
  • Is a juvenile engaged in a commercial sex act

Trafficking victims may be reluctant to report or seek services because they:

  • Do not know or understand that they are being exploited
  • Are threatened that if they tell anyone, they or their families will be hurt
  • Have complex relationships with their traffickers that involve deep levels of psychological conditioning based on fear or misplaced feelings of love
  • Are unfamiliar with their surroundings and do not know whom to trust
  • Do not know help exists or where to go for it
  • Are unfamiliar with the laws, cultures, and languages of the destination location or country
  • Fear retribution and forcible removal or deportation to countries in which they may face imprisonment or other hardship
  • Fear law enforcement and other authorities
  • Are addicted to drugs
  • Are in debt to their traffickers
  • Are sending much needed money back ‘home’ and worry about not being able to do this

2 thoughts on “The Invisible Crime”

  1. I would like to have support to talk openly about fear of retaliation and protecting my freedom. I have questions to discuss, would phone call or email be better?


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