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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

145 N Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20530

January 2018 | Volume 11 | Issue 1

The crimes of human trafficking are gaining more awareness within law enforcement and the communities they serve. Nevertheless there still seems to be a gap in understanding labor trafficking and the role local law enforcement play in the prevention and response.

According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, labor trafficking is defined as:

“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.”1

Within labor trafficking, there are different forms that could be categorized generally into bonded labor/debt bondage, forced labor, and child labor.

  • Bonded labor/debt bondage: When labor is demanded from a victim “as a means of repayment for a loan or service in which its terms and conditions have not been defined or in which the value of the victims’ services as reasonably assessed is not applied toward the liquidation of the debt”.1
  • Forced labor: Forced labor occurs when “victims are forced to work against their own will, under the threat of violence or some other form of punishment, their freedom is restricted and a degree of ownership is exerted.”2
  • Child labor: When force, fraud, and/or coercion is used on children to perform “a form of work that is likely to be hazardous to the health and/or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development of children and can interfere with their education”.1

Labor trafficking can occur in every industry, but the following industries are especially vulnerable: agricultural/farm work, cleaning services, construction, domestic servitude, and factory work. It is important to note that labor trafficking is not human smuggling; trafficking does not require transportation nor movement across borders and is not voluntary. While human smuggling takes place internationally, a smuggling situation can change to a human trafficking situation based on the details of the incident.

Human trafficking is a hidden crime and at times, labor trafficking crimes can be difficult to identify. Like other hidden crimes, it is difficult to understand the true magnitude of labor trafficking; however, there are some data systems that can illustrate a piece of the problem.

Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline has received substantive, US-based phone calls, e-mails, and online tip reports on 6,115 cases with 2,507 victims and survivors identified.3 While looking at the 2016 Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) data, state and local law enforcement reported 1,196 total offenses in 2016, with 189 classified as involuntary servitude.4 It is important to note that this data is only reported by state and local law enforcement agencies that currently have the ability to report the data to the national UCR Program.5

From a global perspective, it is “estimated that in 2016, approximately 40.3 million people are in modern slavery, including 24.9 in forced labor and 15.4 million in forced marriage.”6 Focusing on the 24.9 victims of forced labor, “16 million people are exploited in the private sector such as domestic work, construction, or agriculture.”

In addition, a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that, out of human trafficking incidents between January 2008 and June 2010, 13.9 percent of incidents were labor trafficking, which the remainder were sex trafficking.8 In the same study, researchers found that federal agencies were more likely to lead the investigations of labor trafficking while state and local agencies led sex trafficking investigations,9 local law enforcement still plays a role of identification and response especially because they understand their community best. Below, a couple of suggestions are described in order to spur action at the local level.

Understand the Indicators of Human Trafficking
It is important to understand how to identify a potential trafficking victim and situation. Providing awareness training and tools to help with the indicators is vital. One good resource is the Department of Homeland Security Blue Campaign, which provides human trafficking awareness training that may be beneficial for law enforcement to get a basic understanding of the scope. Some indicators for local law enforcement to be aware of include:

  • Does the victim act fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid?
  • Does the victim defer to another person to speak for him or her?
  • Has the victim been harmed or deprived of food, water, sleep, medical care, or other life necessities?
  • Does the victim have freedom of movement?
  • Does the victim work excessively long and/or unusual hours?
  • Was the victim recruited for one purpose and forced to engage in some other job?10
  • Does the potential victim have access to their identification and legal documents?

Provide Tools for Officers
Understanding the indicators is a good first step, but officers need the tools to understand what to do following the identification. Per the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report, the recommendations for the United States include “increase investigation and prosecution of labor trafficking cases and cases involving nonviolent forms of coercion.”11 Agencies need to ensure that officers have the tools to successfully respond and investigate labor trafficking cases. These tools can include training, checklists, and protocols.

A National Institute of Justice study in 2006 found that 32 percent of respondents identified a human trafficking case while investigating another case.12 This demonstrates the importance of all personnel needing the proper tools and resources to be able to identify a human trafficking case.

Two examples of law enforcement tools include:

  • International Association of Chiefs of Police’s (IACP) “protocol for successful interviews” related to human trafficking13
  • The Vera Institute developed and validated “Trafficking Victim Identification Tool” which assists law enforcement in identifying sex and labor trafficking victims

Identify Resources in your Community
Building and strengthening partnerships is important to ensure that law enforcement officers have the resources they need for identifying and responding to labor trafficking cases. Non-profits and non-governmental organizations are able to provide resources for victims and survivors such as language services, shelters, training, and general victim assistance. Creating a list of resources will  provide officers and opportunity to open a dialogue with  individuals in a  potential case and helps the officer know that  victims have knowledge   of services that the agency may not be able to provide.

For assistance in finding resources in your local community, the National Human Trafficking Referral Directory provides an online directory of social service providers and resources across the country.

Implement Proactive Approaches
Local law enforcement can use problem solving approaches to begin to identify proactive approaches to combat labor trafficking. This can include identifying vulnerable industries within their community and opening up lines of communication to understand recruitment practices and the working environment. Alternatively, it can include covert stings to identify potential victims and traffickers. IACP published a blog post, “It’s Happening Here: Identifying Partners for Proactive Labor Trafficking Investigations”, that includes some ideas of proactive approaches.

Create a Task Force
Formalizing a working partnership in the creation of a task force may be beneficial for jurisdictions. A task force can help with information sharing, intelligence, resources, and cooperation. The Department of Justice’s Office of Victims of Crime and Bureau of Justice Assistance developed a Human Trafficking Task Force e-Guideto assist agencies with forming a task force as well as support for existing task forces.

Raise Community Awareness
Finally, it is vital for local law enforcement to provide awareness to the community in general. One article “Modern slavery: Labor trafficking is everywhere and nowhere,” illustrates how awareness can trigger contact with law enforcement on potential labor trafficking cases. Community awareness can not only encompass general outreach but also tailored information for a specific audience such as schools, businesses, and hotels. Other examples of industry-specific awareness include the Association of Flight Attendants Stop Human Trafficking Campaign and Truckers Against Trafficking.

For more information on Federal Government Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking, please visit

Nazmia E.A. Comrie
Senior Program Specialist

13, page 11

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