Recognizing National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

Every January in the United States, we recognize National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Although there is a formal recognition once a year, human trafficking is happening all the time, and year round, government agencies, nonprofits, law enforcement agencies, community organizations, and other stakeholders are working to eradicate trafficking in persons both domestically and internationally. The Federal Government focuses on four efforts—prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnerships—for the approach to combat trafficking in persons. All four efforts are critical and happen simultaneously across the country.

Definitions and Misconceptions

Awareness is the first piece for understanding the situation.

Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (referred to as the TVPA) and consistent with the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (referred to as the Palermo Protocol), individuals may be trafficking victims regardless of whether they once consented, participated in a crime as a direct result of being trafficked, were transported into the exploitative situation, or were simply born into a state of servitude.1

A common misconception is that human trafficking involves movement across borders. Human trafficking does not require movement across borders, county lines, or even building perimeters. Also, human trafficking is not only an international issue but also something that happens within the borders of the United States.

Another misunderstanding is the difference between human trafficking and human smuggling. “Human smuggling is the importation of people into a country via the deliberate evasion of immigration laws.”2 A fee is typically required in advance for human smuggling; human trafficking involves force, fraud, or coercion or a victim under the age of 18 years of age. An individual may agree to be smuggled into a country, but ultimately that individual can be forced into trafficking. Overall, “despite a term that seems to connote movement, at the heart of the phenomenon of trafficking in persons are the many forms of enslavement, not the activities involved in international transportation.”3

Human trafficking can manifest into different forms and an individual may be a victim of more than one type. The two umbrella terms are sex and labor trafficking; however, there are numerous distinctions based on the situation. Sex trafficking means the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.4In addition, any victim that is a minor under the age of 18 years is a victim of sex trafficking, regardless of whether or not force, fraud, or coercion is used; labor trafficking occurs when a person uses violence, threats, lies, debt bondage, or other forms of coercion to force people to work against their will.5

Victims and Traffickers

Victims of trafficking do not always present as victims. Because of the techniques and tactics used by their traffickers, previous victimization, and history, victims may not trust law enforcement or seek out their help. Victims can be any demographic or come from anywhere: women, men, LGBTQ, adults, children, U.S. citizens, or foreign nationals. However, there are some vulnerabilities that lead to a higher susceptibility for victimization including being a runaway or homeless or prior victimization, especially sexual assault.

Traffickers will “represent every social, ethnic, and racial group,” and they are both male and female.6 Traffickers can be strangers, acquaintances, and even family members. Traffickers use whatever techniques they can to control their victims including violence, manipulation, coercion, isolation, and threats.7

Prevalence and Data

The prevalence of human trafficking is difficult to estimate; however, several statistics have been compiled by numerous organizations:

  • In 2012, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that there were 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally.8
  • The ILO estimated that forced labor and human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide.9
  • Specifically, the Urban Institute estimated that the underground sex economy ranged from $39.9 million in Denver, Colorado, to $290 million in Atlanta, Georgia.10
  • In another Urban Institute study,71 percent of the labor trafficking victims in the study entered the United States on lawful visas.11
  • According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2014, 1 in 6 endangered runaways were likely sex trafficking victims, an increase from 1 in 7 in 2013.12 Sixty-eight percent of those sex trafficking victims were in the care of social services or foster care when they ran.13

What can I do?

This article doesn’t even begin to delve into human trafficking, so it is important to have a firm grasp on what human trafficking is. Learn the indicators and participate in training. If you are law enforcement, order the Child Sex Trafficking: A Training Series for Frontline Officers. Use this training, the associated videos, and the discussion guide to educate your agency about the signs, indicators, and scenarios. Use the fact sheets, tip card, and poster as tools to further your understanding and as reference points. The U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance and Office of Victims of Crime also fund a wide variety of human trafficking training. These trainings are provided by the Upper Midwest Community Policing Institute.

Learn who your local contacts are and become familiar with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888. This 24/7 resource and referral center not only provides information about human trafficking but can also provide referral services or allow you to report a tip.

Know about resources for your agency and community; you don’t have to reinvent the wheel or learn everything on human trafficking. The Trafficking Resource Center maintains a list of federal anti-trafficking efforts.

Finally, another law enforcement tool will be available in the coming weeks from the COPS Office and the International Association of Chiefs of Police: Combating Child Sex Trafficking: A guide for law enforcement leaders. This guide aims to help law enforcement leaders adopt effective multidisciplinary approaches to address child sex trafficking and provides tips on training, identifying resources, and engaging communities.

Nazmia E.A. Comrie
Edtior-in-Chief and Senior Science Analyst
The COPS Office

1“What is Modern Slavery?” U.S. Department of State, accessed December 15, 2015,

2 “Human Smuggling,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, accessed December 15, 2015,

3“What is Modern Slavery?” (see note i).

4 Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106-195, 114 Stat. 1464,

5 “Labor Trafficking,” Polaris, accessed December 17, 2015,

6 Child Sex Trafficking: A Training Series for Frontline Officers (Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, 2015),

7 Ibid.

8 “New ILO Global Estimate of Forced Labour: 20.9 Million Victims,” International Labour Organization, last modified June 1, 2012,

9 “ILO Says Forced Labour Generates Annual Profits of US$150 Billion,” International Labour Organization, last modified May 20, 2014,

10 Meredith Dank et al., “Estimating the Size and Structure of the Underground Commercial Sex Economy in Eight Major U.S. Cities,” Urban Institute, last modified March 12, 2014,

11 Colleen Owens et al., "Understanding the Organization, Operation, and Victimization Process of Labor Trafficking in the United States,” Urban Institute, last modified October 21, 2014, ,

12“Child Sex Trafficking,” National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, accessed December 17, 2015,


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