What is Human Trafficking?
Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide – including right here in the United States. It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality.
Traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to lure their victims and force them into labor or commercial sexual exploitation. They look for people who are susceptible for a variety of reasons, including psychological or emotional vulnerability, economic hardship, lack of a social safety net, natural disasters, or political instability. The trauma caused by the traffickers can be so great that many may not identify themselves as victims or ask for help, even in highly public settings. Moreover, Language barriers, fear of their traffickers, and/or fear of law enforcement frequently keep victims from seeking help, making human trafficking a hidden crime.
Under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act 1, any child under 18 years of age, who is exploited through commercial sex where something of value – such as money, drugs or a place to stay – is given for sexual activity, is a victim of child sex trafficking. Child sex trafficking is a high priority issue at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, especially because these children are often currently missing and actively being exploited.
Even if a child believes that he or she chose to engage in his or her exploitation, it’s important to remember that the child is a victim, and an adult or perpetrator is exploiting the child’s vulnerabilities. As such, there is no such thing as child prostitution, and that phrase should never be used when referring to child sex trafficking.
Check out the video below to learn more!
Indicators of Human Trafficking
Recognizing key indicators of human trafficking is the first step in identifying victims and can help save a life. Here are some common indicators to help recognize human trafficking.
- Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
- Has a child stopped attending school?
- Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
- Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
- Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
- Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
- Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?
- Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
- Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to?
- Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
- Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?
- Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?
- Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?
Not all indicators listed above are present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of human trafficking. You can also download or order the Blue Campaign's indicator card, which is a small plastic card that lists common signs of trafficking and how to report the crime.
Check out the videos below to learn more!
Myths & Misconceptions
Below are common myths and misconceptions about human trafficking:
Myth: Human trafficking does not occur in the United States. It only happens in other countries.
Fact: Human trafficking exists in every country, including the United States. It exists nationwide—in cities, suburbs, and rural towns—and possibly in your own community.
Myth: Human trafficking victims are only foreign born individuals and those who are poor.
Fact: Human trafficking victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality. They may come from any socioeconomic group.
Myth: Human trafficking is only sex trafficking.
Fact: Sex trafficking exists, but it is not the only type of human trafficking. Forced labor is another type of human trafficking; both involve exploitation of people. Victims are found in legitimate and illegitimate labor industries, including sweatshops, massage parlors, agriculture, restaurants, hotels, and domestic service.
Myth: Individuals must be forced or coerced into commercial sex acts to be victims of human trafficking.
Fact: Under U.S. federal law, any minor under the age of 18 who is induced to perform commercial sex acts is a victim of human trafficking, regardless of whether he or she is forced or coerced.
Myth: Human trafficking and human smuggling are the same.
Fact: Human trafficking is not the same as smuggling. “Trafficking” is based on exploitation and does not require movement across borders. “Smuggling” is based on movement and involves moving a person across a country’s border with that person’s consent in violation of immigration laws. Although human smuggling is very different from human trafficking, human smuggling can turn into trafficking if the smuggler uses force, fraud, or coercion to hold people against their will for the purposes of labor or sexual exploitation. Under federal law, every minor induced to engage in commercial sex is a victim of human trafficking.
Myth: Human trafficking victims will attempt to seek help when in public.
Fact: Human trafficking is often a hidden crime. Victims may be afraid to come forward and get help; they may be forced or coerced through threats or violence; they may fear retribution from traffickers, including danger to their families; and they may not be in possession of or have control of their identification documents.
Reporting & Helping a Victim
Everyone has a role to play in combating human trafficking. Recognizing the signs of human trafficking is the first step to identifying a victim. The Blue Campaign's resources page has materials for a more in-depth human trafficking education and a catalog of materials that can be distributed and displayed in your community.
Do not at any time attempt to confront a suspected trafficker directly or alert a victim to your suspicions. Your safety as well as the victim’s safety is paramount. Instead, please contact local law enforcement directly or call the tip lines indicated on this page:
- Call 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423) to report suspicious criminal activity to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Tip Line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year. Highly trained specialists take reports from both the public and law enforcement agencies on more than 400 laws enforced by ICE HSI, including those related to human trafficking.
- To get help from the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH), call 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733). The NHTH can help connect victims with service providers in the area and provides training, technical assistance, and other resources. The NHTH is a national, toll-free hotline available to answer calls from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year. The NHTH is not a law enforcement or immigration authority and is operated by a nongovernmental organization funded by the Federal government.
Infographics for Identification and Reporting Awareness
Resources for Victims and Their Families
Check out the links below to access additional online training in combating human trafficking
- Understanding Human Trafficking: The Understanding Human Trafficking training is a series of five interactive online modules that offer foundational learning on trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches to human trafficking. This training equips participants to think critically about human trafficking using reliable resources, both locally and from across the United States.
- What EMS Need to Know About Human Trafficking: EMS providers can play an important role in reporting and stopping human trafficking. By understanding the dynamics of human trafficking, EMS personnel can help victims. There are six sections in this training that will provide EMS personnel with crucial information what human trafficking is, what it might look like, how to report it, and where to get more information. This training was developed by the Institute for Family Violence Studies within Florida State University’s College of Social Work.
- SOAR to Health and Wellness Training: The Stop, Observe, Ask, and Respond to human trafficking (SOAR) training educates health care and social service professionals on how to identify, treat, and respond appropriately to human trafficking. By applying a public health approach, SOAR seeks to build the capacity of communities to identify and respond to the complex needs of individuals who have experienced trafficking and understand the root causes that make individuals, families, and communities vulnerable to trafficking.
- NHTH & HHS Online Training Library: This page contains trainings offered by the National Human Trafficking Hotline and the department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
- The Blue Campaign to End Human Trafficking: Learn about the Blue Campaign, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) effort to end human trafficking. You'll hear from a former prosecutor of human trafficking cases and Homeland Security officials, who will describe how to recognize potential victims and what steps EMS providers should take on the scene.
- Recognizing and Responding to Human Trafficking in a Healthcare Context: This presentation will enable healthcare professionals to define human trafficking and recognize how victims may come into contact with healthcare, learn to identify trafficking victims in a clinical setting, and identify promising practices for assisting a patient who may be a potential trafficking victim.
- Understanding Human Trafficking: This training is a series of five interactive online modules that offer foundational learning on trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches to human trafficking to a wide audience. Understanding Human Trafficking is unique in equipping participants to think critically about human trafficking using reliable resources, both locally and from across the United States.
- Emerging Issues Webinar Series: Labor Trafficking: The National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center explores new tools and research for outreach, identification, response, and risk reduction strategies for foreign nationals and migrant workers, not only in the agricultural industry, but other industries that are also high-risk for trafficking.
- Increasing Community Response to Trafficking by Leveraging Public-Private Partnerships: This webinar discusses the successful structures of existing public–private partnerships, how to better leverage community resources to provide services to survivors, families, and individuals at risk of trafficking, and best practices in establishing public–private partnerships.
- A Public Health Approach to Human Trafficking: One of the primary benefits of looking at human trafficking as a public health issue is the emphasis on prevention: that is, looking at the systemic issues that cause people to be vulnerable to human trafficking in the first place. Upstream determinants, such as domestic violence, substance use, poverty, and immigration status, may put some individuals at a higher risk for trafficking than others. A public health approach to trafficking moves upstream to identify preventive measures that, when combined with downstream interventions, can work to decrease the number of individuals who experience trafficking.
- Human Trafficking and Faith-Based Organizations: In conjunction with faith-based organizations, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center discusses multidisciplinary intersections specific to faith-based partnerships and outreach, how these intersections shape our response to human trafficking, how faith-based entities can mobilize and partner with community-based organizations to proactively identify and provide outreach to populations at risk of trafficking, and successful models that have been used to coordinate and establish a continuum of care for individuals who have experienced trafficking
- Blue Campaign's Human Trafficking Awareness Videos: These videos address what is human trafficking and how to recognize labor and sex trafficking within your community.
- Faces of Human Trafficking: Produced by the Office of Victims of Crime, Faces of Human Trafficking is intended to be used for outreach and education efforts of service providers, law enforcement, prosecutors, and others in the community. The series includes information about sex and labor trafficking, multidisciplinary approaches to serving victims of human trafficking, effective victim services, victims' legal needs, and voices of survivors.
- Look Beneath The Surface Campaign: Developed by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Look Beneath the Surface campaign works with grantees and partners to raise awareness of human trafficking and the factors that make certain populations more at risk. The campaign also empowers health care providers and faith-based and community organizations to help identify individuals who may be experiencing trafficking and connect them with services by calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Organizations Against Human Trafficking
Check out these organizations below for additional resources and information about combating human trafficking
Virginia Based Organizations
- The Butterfly House: The Butterfly House is a faith based organization providing a safe home for women rescued from sex trafficking. Their mission is to educate and bring awareness about sex trafficking through participation in the community.
- Central Virginia Justice Initiative (CVJI): CVJI is a faith-based, 501(c)(3) whose mission is to mobilize the Rappahannock region of Virginia to combat and end human trafficking and exploitation in all its forms, as well as support victims and survivors of this crime. CVJI focuses on raising awareness, educating communities, creating & implementing prevention programs, advocating for laws, and partnering with faith communities.
- Freedom 4/24: Freedom 4/24 exists to bring freedom and justice to victims and survivors of sexual exploitation and trafficking through providing awareness and education and expanding the work of partner organizations. Freedom 4/24 is committed to providing support and resources to organizations that are passionate about ending exploitation by providing a pathway to freedom for trafficked and exploited women and children.
- ImPACT Virginia: ImPACT Virginia seeks to prevent human trafficking by raising public awareness about this hidden form of abuse and growing public health concern. Through small and large scale trainings, they hope to inspire people from all disciplines to take an active role in Virginia's effort to stop the exploitation that is happening in communities across the Commonwealth.
- Just Ask Prevention: Just Ask Prevention is a U.S. registered 501(c)(3) not-for-profit educational organization based in McLean, Virginia focused on ending human trafficking in the United States and around the world through education, prevention, and intervention.
- Legal Services of Northern Virginia (LSNV): LSNV recently expanded its representation areas to include survivors of human trafficking. Staff attorney, Alexandra (“Alex”) Lydon, and Equal Justice Works Crime Victims Justice Corps Fellow, Alina Launchbaugh, are focused on creating awareness of the existence of human trafficking (both sex trafficking and labor trafficking) in Northern Virginia and the services LSNV can provide to survivors.
- Northern Virginia Family Service (NVFS): NVFS proactively screens for human trafficking victims through services at its Multicultural Center to ensure they receive the support and protection they need to end trafficking, address the effects, and ensure a safer, healthier future. This includes not only legal representation, but also wraparound case management and mental health services. NVFS also participates in partnerships and trainings to educate other organizations on trafficking and how to help identify potential trafficking victims.
- Reset180: Located in Northern Virginia, Reset180 is a Christian nonprofit that partners with community members to prevent and disrupt modern day slavery while restoring survivors.
- Richmond Justice Initiative (RJI): RJI’s mission is to educate, equip and mobilize communities with the tools needed to be a force in the global movement to end human trafficking. RJI is a Christian faith-based organization that works locally and nationally to eradicate human trafficking. They are committed to protecting at-risk youth by educating them about human trafficking through their nationally award-winning Prevention Project™ program. They further engage the communities through speaking engagements, in-depth trainings and prayer.
- Safe Harbor: Safe Harbor provides the support that survivors of sexual and domestic violence and human trafficking need to overcome their crisis and to transform their lives. By providing shelter, counseling, support, education, and advocacy to survivors, Safe Harbor is helping those who have been impacted by violence and abuse to heal, rebuild, and move forward with their lives.
- Samaritan House: Samaritan House seeks to increase access and inclusivity, especially for those who are marginalized, disadvantaged or oppressed. They strives to promote equal access to all individuals in need of support services. Samaritan House offers housing, case management, counseling, victim advocacy, transportation, medical assistance, food assistance, group therapy, job training and more to individuals and families experiencing domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking or homelessness.
- Seton Youth Shelters: Seton Youth Shelters provides a safe haven, counseling and outreach services, 24 hours per day without charge, to assist youth in crisis throughout Hampton Roads, with the goal of reuniting families. The caring staff offers hope and confidence to teens and parents while creative implementation of programs provides added capability.
- Street Ransom: Based in Roanoke, Virginia, Street Ransom is empowering the lives of those vulnerable to and affected by sexual exploitation by 1) educating the public about sexual exploitation and trafficking through prevention education and professional trainings and 2) providing holistic, trauma-informed support that victims and survivors deserve.
- Tahirih Justice Center: Tahirih Justice engages in advocacy at the state and local level on behalf of trafficking survivors. They sit on state anti-trafficking coalitions, pursue statewide anti-trafficking campaigns, and coordinate with other non-government organizations and with local, state, and federal agencies to improve anti-trafficking and victim-services efforts. Tahirih also supports legislative initiatives that ensure that those who have been trafficked are treated fairly in the criminal justice system.
- Virginia Beach Justice Initiative: Virginia Beach Justice Initiative is a faith-based nonprofit whose vision is to make their region the least friendly place for traffickers and the safest place for its survivors to heal. Their purpose is to end human trafficking in Hampton Roads through awareness, prevention initiatives and intervention strategies that meet the needs of trafficking survivors.
- Youth For Tomorrow (YFT): YFT serves boys, girls, and families, of all ages whose lives are in crisis. Its residential program based in Bristow, VA, continues to be nationally accredited and is complimented by programs serving hundreds of children in local schools and private homes while serving children and adults in community settings every day. YFT has treatment group homes for boys and girls including services to pregnant teens and domestic girls sexually exploited or trafficked.
Government & Non-government Organizations
- The Blue Campaign: The Blue Campaign is a national public awareness campaign, designed to educate the public, law enforcement and other industry partners to recognize the indicators of human trafficking, and how to appropriately respond to possible cases. The Blue Campaign works closely with Department of Homeland Security Components to create general awareness training and materials for law enforcement and others to increase detection of human trafficking, and to identify victims.
- International Justice Mission (IJM): IJM works with local justice officials, community partners, advocates and people like you to end slavery for good. IJM is committed to rescuing and restoring victims of violence, forced labor, or sex trafficking, bringing criminals to justice, and strengthening justice systems.
- The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC): NCMEC is a private, non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation whose mission is to help find missing children, reduce child sexual exploitation, and prevent child victimization. NCMEC works with families, victims, private industry, law enforcement, and the public to assist with preventing child abductions, recovering missing children, and providing services to deter and combat child sexual exploitation.
- National Human Trafficking Hotline: The National Human Trafficking Hotline connects victims and survivors of sex and labor trafficking with services and supports to get help and stay safe. The Trafficking Hotline also receives tips about potential situations of sex and labor trafficking and facilitates reporting that information to the appropriate authorities in certain cases. The toll-free phone and SMS text lines and live online chat function are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Help is available in English or Spanish, or in more than 200 additional languages through an on-call interpreter.
- OVC TTAC: The Office for Victims of Crime Training and Technical Assistance Center (OVC TTAC) is a component of the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. OVC TTAC provides practitioner-driven, evidence-based training and technical assistance (TTA) that is responsive to the particular needs of victim service providers, their communities, and the victims they serve, including a specific focus on human trafficking.
- Polaris: Polaris is spearheading a reimagined approach to confronting, and ultimately, to ending sex and labor trafficking in North America. Their work is driven by data, shaped by the expertise of survivors, and focused on dismantling the underlying systems that make it possible to rob 25 million people around the world of the freedom to choose how they live and work. For more than a decade, Polaris has operated the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, connecting more than 50,000 victims and survivors to help and support.
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): ICE enforces a wide range of crimes related to border security, including investigations of human smuggling and human trafficking. In fact, ICE is one of the primary federal agencies responsible for combating human trafficking.
- U.S Center for Countering Human Trafficking (CCHT): Prevention, Protection, Prosecution, Partnership. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Center for Countering Human Trafficking (CCHT) oversees the DHS mission to combat human trafficking and the importation of goods produced with forced labor.
- United States' Office on Trafficking in Persons: The Office on Trafficking in Persons (OTIP) operates under the values of the Administration of Children and Families and the Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for victims of human trafficking in the United States. It is their mission to combat human trafficking by supporting and leading systems that prevent trafficking through public awareness and protect victims through identification and assistance, helping them re-build their lives and become self-sufficient.
- Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services: The Commonwealth of Virginia has been actively taking steps to improve its response to human trafficking. Although this process takes time, there have been significant improvements made since the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 was implemented.
For Immediate Help & Assistance
To report suspected human trafficking to Federal law enforcement:
To get help from the National Human Trafficking Hotline:
Call 1-888-373-7888 or
text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733)
For additional information, questions, or suggestions, please contact Karen Owens, Emergency Operations Division Director, at Karen.Owens@vdh.virginia.gov.
*Statistic was provided by Polaris.
**Links to non-Virginia Commonwealth or non-federal websites on this page do not constitute as an endorsement by the Commonwealth of Virginia or the U.S. government, or any of its employees, of the information and/or products presented on those sites.