Trafficking Defined

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Frequently Asked Quesions About Human Trafficking:

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking is a term used to describe situations where one person obtains or holds another person in compelled service, a modern form of slavery. Trafficking can be generally defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons. This is done by means of threats, coercion, abduction, fraud, and deception.

The UNODC definition:

“Human trafficking involves an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harbouring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them.”

How does trafficking occur?

This can occur through one individual abusing their power over another or attempting to take advantage of a vulnerable situation, as well as through monetary transactions or the promise of benefits to achieve the consent of a person for the end purpose of exploitation.

A victim cannot consent to being trafficked. They might provide consent to certain terms, to work in a certain business, or even to be smuggled illegally, but intrinsic to this situation is fraud, force, or coercion. The initial terms of agreement differ from the reality, which is exploitation. Being trafficked is not the result of naivete, drug addiction, or stupidity. Victims of trafficking have been manipulated by people that they trust, be it in their circle of family and friends, their greater community network, or even a legitimate-looking organization that turns out to be a front for trafficking.

Many victims are subjected to debt bondage, where they are asked to pay off some kind of recruitment fee, often travel to another country. Victims are told that they must work to pay off this inflated debt in a specific capacity (an illegal practice) under threat of bodily harm to the victim or their families. This throws victims into cycles of debt because they are asked to pay off old expenses in addition to covering current living expenses. It is nearly impossible to pay back these enormous sums, and various barriers prevent victims in debt bondage situations from seeking outside assistance.

Is smuggling the same thing as trafficking?

The term "trafficking" is misleading, since most people assume it implies movement. Trafficking is not the same things as smuggling. It does not require forced movement, transportation, or border crossing. A person can be trafficking in their own country, state, city, or in their own home. These situations do not require physical force, abuse or restraint. The consent of a victim is irrelevant, as is payment or compensation.

What are the root causes of trafficking?

Trafficking cannot be explained by one inciting factor—it is the product of many things. One of the root causes of trafficking is poverty. If a person lives in an environment that lacks certain resources and opportunities, such as adequate education, available jobs, and relative stability, they are more likely to be searching for better prospects. For many victims, this is the hope for a better life. They are vulnerable, and hope to escape war, instability, poverty, and abuse, only to be end up deceived and enslaved.

Click to learn more about trafficking in Southeast Asia. 


photos by Alexis E Santi, Eva Turek.