Frequently Asked Questions on Human Trafficking

Listed below are a few common FAQs extracted from The Carolina Women’s Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Is human trafficking the same thing as slavery?

Majority of the people refer to human trafficking as modern-day slavery. Although it is not the same as the transatlantic slave trade that flourished prior to the Civil War, there are many similarities in how victims are treated.

What is the actual definition of human trafficking?

The definition comes from the Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act (2000, 2003, 2005, 2008) which defines “severe forms of trafficking” as:

a. sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or

b. 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.

Note that a victim need not be physically transported from one location to another in order for the crime to fall within these definitions.

I’ve seen a lot of different statistics about the scope of human trafficking. Why don’t we have consistent numbers?

Human trafficking is very difficult to quantify.  It is an underground crime and traffickers go to great lengths to keep their victims isolated so that the crime is not discovered.  North Carolina Coalition Against Human Trafficking and NC Stop Human Trafficking members rely on statistics compiled by the Department of State (some of which originate in other sources, such as the International Labor Organization), the FBI, and a 2001/2 study published by Dr. Richard Estes at the University of Pennsylvania.

  • 12.3 million adults and children are in forced labor and/or forced prostitution around the world.
  • 600,000-800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year.
  • 14,500-17,500 of those international victims enter the United States.
  • Almost 25% of those international victims end up in the Southeastern United States.
  • Between 100,000-300,000 minors are at risk of commercial sexual exploitation.

How do you identify a trafficking victim?

There are many examples of red flags or indicators of potential trafficking situations.  Just a few include:

  • Whether the individual(s) can leave or come and go as they please
  • Whether the individual is under 18 and is engaged in commercial sexual activity
  • Whether the individual works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Whether there are unusual physical security measures present, such as bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, constant surveillance, etc.
  • Whether the individual avoids eye contact or does not seem to be allowed to speak for themselves
  • Whether the individual is in control of his/her own identification documents
  • Whether the individual seems to have local knowledge and be aware of his/her location

You can get more extensive information and learn about additional red flags by consulting the Resources page at [humantrafficking.unc.edu].

    Isn’t labor trafficking just illegal immigration?

    No.  Smuggling and trafficking are different, although there have been cases of smuggling that have turned into human trafficking.

    Smuggling assumes some level of consent and willingness on the part of the person that is being smuggled; labor trafficking requires the use of force, fraud or coercion.  Smuggling is a violation of national boundaries; labor trafficking does not require actual movement and is a violation of one’s human rights.


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