What is Human Trafficking? 

The official definition, taken from the United Nation's Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, is "the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation." 


Anti-trafficking activist Kevin Bales' definition is less of a mouthful: 
Slavery: "being forced to work without pay, under the threat of violence, and being unable to walk away."

Isn't slavery a thing of the past? 

Slavery was outlawed individually by most countries throughout the 19th century, however, it was not officially illegalized internationally until the United Nation's Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others in 1949.

There's a distinct difference between outlawing slavery and abolishing it: slavery still exists, and the legal term for it today is human trafficking. When slavery became illegal, it shifted to a black market industry that has only grown in the last 100 years.

There are more slaves now that at any other time in world history.

Doesn't human trafficking have to do with transporting people?

The term 'human trafficking' intuitively implies that the transportation of people is necessary, but the international legal definition of trafficking does not include this. Human trafficking is being forced to work under threat of violence; sometimes that involves being moved around, sometimes it does not.

Labor Trafficking

The term labor trafficking can technically or legally encompass any kind of trafficking, since it defines any work or action that a person is made to perform under coercion or threat of violence. However, when this term is used, most often it refers to forced labor within a specific industry (agricultural, industrial, restaurant, hospitality, etc.) Within these industries, labor trafficking can manifest itself as bonded labor, debt bondage, or domestic servitude.

Types of Human Trafficking


Bonded labor is the enslavement of a person at the excuse of debt payment. A person is either deceived or forced into working to pay off a debt he/she may have willingly or unwillingly taken on.

 Refugees or migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to this form of slavery, since the seizure of passports and documents alone can leave them at the mercy of whomever holds them. 


Just like debt bondage, the psychology behind sex trafficking often aims to condition the victim to believe they voluntarily participate in 'the life' of a prostitute. When this is the case, a trauma bond, which most people know by the term 'Stockholm Syndrome', is formed between a victim and his/ her captor. This can lead the victim to feel intense affection or even love for his/her trafficker, which works greatly to the trafficker's advantage, allowing him/her to abuse the victim without worrying that the he/she will pursue freedom. A victim may even attempt to protect his/her trafficker from the police or from legal investigations and often believes that the trafficker feels the same affection.

Sex Trafficking


Sexual slavery is not the most common, but is the most widely known, form of slavery. In countries where legal prostitution or forced prostitution are more socially acceptable, victims may be more openly taken and forced into slavery. In countries where prostitution and human trafficking are more illegal or more secretive, more psychological manipulation is employed when recruiting and enslaving victims.

Many underestimate the amount of money that a trafficker can make on even one victim, and therefore underestimate how much a trafficker will invest to coerce someone into sex trafficking. This pimp describes his methods for luring women into sex trafficking, and Mickey Royal actually published a book describing the abuse he used to maintain control of his victims. 

Other Forms

While most cases of human trafficking fall under labor or sex trafficking, the definition of trafficking can manifest itself in many different ways across the world. Some other forms of trafficking include child soldiers, forced marriages, and organ harvesting. 


There are many nations in the world whose children are currently in danger of becoming forced soldiers. Most often, male children in these situations are forced to become soldiers and female children are taken as sex slaves or wives of the soldiers. It is not uncommon, as part of the conditioning for these young boys, for their kidnappers to force them to kill members of their family. This has an extreme psychological effect that is often intended to make killing others less traumatic. It also serves to make the children feel guilty, and they are often told that they will be unable to return to their villages or families because they will be outcasted as murderers.