by Liana Sun Wyler (Author), Alison Siskin (Author)

Trafficking in persons (TIP) for the purposes of exploitation is believed to be one of the most prolific areas of contemporary international criminal activity and is of significant interest to the United States and the international community as a serious human rights concern. TIP is both an international and a domestic crime that involves violations of labor, public health, and human rights standards, and criminal law.

In general, the trafficking business feeds on conditions of vulnerability, such as youth, gender, poverty, ignorance, social exclusion, political instability, and ongoing demand. Actors engaged in human trafficking range from amateur family-run organizations to sophisticated transnational organized crime syndicates. Trafficking victims are often subjected to mental and physical abuse in order to control them, including debt bondage, social isolation, removal of identification cards and travel documents, violence, and fear of reprisals against them or their families. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), some 20.9 million individuals today are estimated to be victims of forced labor, including TIP. As many as 17,500 people are believed to be trafficked into the United States each year, and some have estimated that 100,000 U.S. citizen children are victims of trafficking within the United States.

Human trafficking is of great concern to the United States and the international community. Anti-TIP efforts have accelerated in the United States since the enactment of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA, P.L. 106-386) and internationally since the passage of the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, adopted in 2000. Through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA, Division A of P.L. 106-386) and its reauthorizations (TVPRAs), Congress has aimed to eliminate human trafficking by creating international and domestic grant programs for both victims and law enforcement, creating new criminal laws, and conducting oversight on the effectiveness and implications of U.S. anti-TIP policy. Most recently, the TVPA was reauthorized through FY2011 in the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA of 2008, P.L. 110-457).

The United States engages in anti-TIP efforts internationally and domestically. The bulk of U.S. anti-trafficking programs abroad is administered by the State Department, United States Agency for International Development, and Department of Labor. In keeping with U.S. anti-trafficking policy, these programs have emphasized prevention, protection, and prosecution (the three “Ps”). Prevention programs have combined public awareness and education campaigns with education and employment opportunities for those at risk of trafficking, particularly women and girls. Protection programs have involved direct support for shelters, as well as training of local service providers, public officials, and religious groups. Programs to improve the prosecution rates of traffickers have helped countries draft or amend existing anti-TIP laws, as well as provided training for law enforcement and judiciaries to enforce those laws. However, it is difficult to evaluate the impact of international U.S. anti-trafficking efforts since few reliable measures of TIP have been identified.

Domestically, anti-TIP efforts also include protection for victims, education of the public, and the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenses. The Departments of Justice (DOJ), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Labor (DOL) have programs or administer grants to other entities to provide assistance specific to the needs of victims of trafficking. These needs include temporary housing, independent living skills, cultural orientation, transportation needs, job training, mental health counseling, and legal assistance.