Human Trafficking as Crime and Legal Response


Human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, transportation, sheltering, and receptor of human beings for the purpose of exploitation through involuntary servitude. More than 1,000,000 people, including men, women, and children are trafficked every year. There are three main types of human trafficking, namely sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and organ removal. The US is one of the major destinations for people trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation, through pornography, coerced prostitution, child sex rings, and activities such as erotic dancing and nude modeling. There are several domestic and international laws that fight the crime.

For instance, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was passed in 2000 to eradicate trafficking by protecting victims, prosecuting perpetrators, and preventing the proliferation of the crime. Several government agencies are also involved in the anti-trafficking campaign. It is important for countries across the globe to work together to eradicate the global challenge that has grown significantly in the last two decades.


Human trafficking is defined as the forceful recruitment, transportation, sheltering, and reception for the sole purpose of exploiting them for financial gains. It is also referred to as trafficking in persons, and it is a form of contemporary slavery. It is a global challenge that affects people of all genders and ages, including men, women, and children. According to statistics, more than 1, 000, 000 people are trafficked every year. Of these, between 20,000 and 50,000 are transported to the United States. The United Nations divides it into three categories: labor trafficking, sex trafficking, and organs removal. The US is one of the major destinations for people trafficked for sexual exploitation. However, it recognizes the first two categories and excludes the removal of organs from its definition of human trafficking.

Forms of Exploitation

As mentioned earlier, human trafficking occurs in many forms, all of which are different types of exploitation. Of the three, the most common is sexual exploitation. The international sex industry is so huge that approximately 58 percent of all trafficking activities are linked to sex slavery (Peters, 2015). According to the United Nations, sex slavery encompasses a plethora of activities, namely pornography, coerced prostitution, child sex rings, and occupations such as naked modeling and erotic dancing (Steverson & Wooditch, 2021). Forced prostitution is an old type of enslavement, and it is likely the most lucrative business for individuals involved in the sex trade (Peters, 2015).

Manipulation and deception are commonly used to recruit individuals into the business. Victims are usually told that they are being taken to other nations to pursue legitimate employment opportunities. However, when they reach their destinations, they are coerced into illegal activities that put them at risk of physical, mental, and psychological harm. Certain countries, including Ghana, India, and Nepal practice a form of this exploitation; young girls are coerced into sexual slavery as a way of paying for the sins of their families.

Forced labor is another form of exploitation associated with human trafficking. It is among the oldest forms of human mistreatment that are even chronicled in the Bible. However, contemporary forms of involuntary enslavement usually go unnoticed and unreported. As a result, the victims suffer in silence and are usually released after an agreed-upon period of time. For instance, peonage also referred to as debt slavery, is a form of enslavement in which an employer forces an employee to work for a certain period in order to clear a debt (Peters, 2015). It is a form of exploitation that was outlawed by Congress in 1867.

However, it re-emerged during the Reconstruction and continued for some time, before being completely eliminated in the 1940s (Steverson & Wooditch, 2021). In other cases, employers use contract slavery as a means of justifying forced servitude. In the United States, people who are not initiated into sex slavery are usually forced into other occupations, including agriculture, manufacturing, entertainment, construction, restaurant work, and domestic service.

Trafficking for the removal of organs is the least common and most overt form of trafficking. According to the American Transplant Foundation, more than 114,000 people in the United States are waiting for organs (ACAMSToday, 2018). Moreover, one person is added to the waitlist after every 1o minutes. Legally available organs are only sufficient for approximately 10% of the global demand. These statistics reveal that the demand for organs is very high, especially in the US. The long waitlists and the risk of deteriorating health due to prolonged waiting, compel individuals to explore the options available through organ trafficking (ACAMSToday, 2018).

Victims of this form of exploitation are usually the vulnerable populations, especially the poor. It takes many forms, including compelling victims to give up their organs, deceiving them through false promises of financial compensation, or removing organs without the victim’s knowledge (Peters, 2015). An individual might have their organs harvested when they visit certain hospitals for treatments that involve procedures such as surgeries. Homeless persons, migrant workers, and illiterate individuals are at high risk of being trafficked for organ removal (ACAMSToday, 2018). Legally, organ trafficking is a crime, and several people are liable: the recruiters, the buyers, the transporters, the medical staff, and the contractors.

Trafficking as Organized Crime

Three main fundamentals comprise the crime of human trafficking: the act, the means, and the purpose. Traffickers use a wide range of techniques to influence their victims. These include emotional manipulation, blackmail, the removal of official documents, and physical as well as sexual abuse (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, n.d.). The act involves any one of the following activities: recruit, transport, transfer, harbor, or receive (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, n.d.).

Means include the methods applied in executing the crime, such as threat, coercion, fraud, the use of force, abduction, deception, financial payments, and abuse of power (Peters, 2015). The purpose of trafficking is usually exploitation. Forms of trafficking recognized as crimes include sexual exploitation, forced labor, debt bondage, domestic servitude, organ removal, forced begging, child soldiers, and forced marriage.

Efforts to fight human trafficking emerged in the 1990s, owing to increased awareness regarding the problem. The first step was to convince stakeholders that the problem needed government intervention and rigorous discussions that superseded political and ideological lines. In 2000, Congress passed the first and most comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation, owing to the inadequacy of laws existing at the time. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 aims to eradicate trafficking by protecting victims, prosecuting perpetrators, and preventing the proliferation of the crime (Steverson & Wooditch, 2021).

Government agencies, including Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the US Agency for International Development, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are involved in the implementation of the Act. However, the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons is the primary government agency tasked with the responsibility of fighting human trafficking.

Other laws that are applicable in fighting the crime include the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2017, Abolish Human Trafficking Act of 2017, and the Survivors of Human Trafficking Empowerment Act of 2015 (Steverson & Wooditch, 2021). Internationally, the adoption of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children by the United Nations General Assembly marked an important milestone in the fight against human trafficking. It was established in 2000, and it offered a definition of trafficking that is accepted by all countries. Moreover, it encouraged all countries to enact laws to eradicate human trafficking, offer assistance to victims, and promote the development of international cooperation and coordination initiatives (Steverson & Wooditch, 2021).

The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime is responsible for implementing anti-trafficking policies. For instance, it developed the Global Program Against Trafficking in Human Beings (GPAT) as a mitigation measure. Interpol is also involved internationally, and it offers assistance to international criminal justice agencies involved in the eradication of trafficking (Steverson & Wooditch, 2021). Moreover, it raises awareness about the dangers of trafficking. International organizations such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) also play key roles in fighting the crime.

Prevention and Control

Human trafficking is a global form of organized crime, and international cooperation is required for its prevention and control. The TVPA equips the government with the resources needed for the elimination of contemporary forms of slavery, both at the domestic and international levels (Peters, 2015). The law is an extension of the 13thAmendment, which prohibited slavery and involuntary servitude.

It helps international governments in drafting anti-trafficking laws and conducting investigations (Steverson & Wooditch, 2021). According to the US Department of Justice, the TVPA offers protection for trafficking victims and prosecutes the criminals involved in illegal business. It has a framework consisting of 3 P’s, namely protection, prosecution, and prevention (Steverson & Wooditch, 2021). Foreign governments are urged to cooperate with the international community in fighting the crime. Those that fail to cooperate, receive sanctions from financial institutions, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.


Human trafficking is a global problem that involves the recruitment, transportation, and induction of people into involuntary servitude. The three common forms of trafficking include labor trafficking, sex trafficking, and organ removal. Millions of people are trafficked each year, and the number is growing steadily. Internationally, human trafficking is a crime, and several tactics are used to lure victims into the network.

National and international anti-trafficking laws aim to protect victims, prosecute perpetrators, and prevent the proliferation of illegal business. The concerted efforts of countries across the world are needed for the successful eradication of human trafficking. Governments that fail to cooperate are usually denied financial aid by international institutions like the World Bank and the IMF.


ACAMSToday. (2018). Organ trafficking: The unseen form of human trafficking. Web.

Peters, A. W. (2015). Responding to human trafficking: Sex, gender, and culture in the law. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Steverson, L. A., & Wooditch, A. C. (2021). Human Trafficking. Britannica. Web.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (n.d.). The Crime. The United Nations. Web.

Wylie, G. (2016). The international politics of human trafficking. Palgrave Macmillan.

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1. LawBirdie. "Human Trafficking as Crime and Legal Response." March 27, 2023.


LawBirdie. "Human Trafficking as Crime and Legal Response." March 27, 2023.