Despite the fact that human trafficking’s domestic victims are commonly exploited in the sex trade, there are several other commercial realms in which workers are exploited. These are often workers who are considered to be hidden in plain sight because consumers assume they are not being exploited because they are faces of legal businesses, such as restaurants, hotels, gentlemen’s clubs, agricultural settings, and hair and nail salons. Additionally, a small number of street beggars are panhandling against their will. In recent years, sex trafficking in America has garnered more media attention than ever before, which is key to combatting trafficking as a whole. However, the average American has little to no human contact with persons in the sex industry, so there must be a greater awareness of all forms of human trafficking.

Trafficking Victim Population

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, human trafficking in the United States rose 35.7 percent in 2016, from 2015. In 2016, 7,572 case-specific calls were received, and trafficking types were broken down into the following categories:

  • Sex, 5,551
  • Labor, 1,057
  • Non-specified, 696
  • Sex and labor, 268.

Additional facts about victims of human trafficking in 2016 include:

The three states with the highest human trafficking incidents included California (1,323), Texas (670) and Florida (550).

In the area of labor trafficking, 201 cases were reported in domestic work, followed by 124 in agriculture, and 100 in traveling sales industries.

A total of 584 cases were hotel-motel based, and 559 were reported at commercial-front brothels.

The US Department of State estimates that between 14,500-17,500 people are trafficked into the US each year. This estimate does not include those trafficked within US borders.

Human trafficking victims are not always foreign nationals, as there are many vulnerable US-born minors and adults who fall prey to sex trafficking. However in the slave labor realm, a majority of victims are living and working in the US illegally. They are lured here with promises of good wages and a higher quality of life. Once they arrive, they find themselves dependent on their captors and unable, or afraid to, access professional assistance to remedy their situation. Knowing they are here illegally, they fear legal repercussions for being here in the first place.

Indirectly, the US immigration policy supports forced labor practices because the law specifies that domestic workers brought here by their employers must remain with said employer or face deportation. Workers hosted by US employers often face substandard working conditions and/or low wages, or they are victims of debt bondage. In the US, debt bondage, also known as debt slavery, is most commonly seen in cases of those forced into prostitution. This is especially prevalent in instances where sex workers have been transported to another region. Their pimps insist on being reimbursed for living and travel expenses, charging fees and interest rates so high, the debt is impossible to pay off.

Citizen Action

Have you ever walked past a construction crew and thought a member looked too young for the job, or witnessed a salon employee who would not make eye contact? Countless American consumers have contact with those entrenched in forced labor situations, but do not realize it because they quickly assume their suspicions are unfounded. From hotel and restaurant staff, to salon employees and nannies, there are many entities employing a form of slave labor. Young domestic slave labor victims are often part of a traveling sales crew, showing up at a legion of residential doors per day. Society as a whole must be educated on the signs to look for, and speak out when something seems amiss. Main warning signs seen in trafficked individuals include:

  • Has an inability to make eye contact
  • Is in poor physical health and appears malnourished
  • Displays abnormal behavior or declined mental health
  • Shows signs or abuse
  • Exhibits lack of self-control
  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Does not have control of personal finances and/or documents
  • Are discouraged to speak on their own behalf
  • Can or will not disclose their residential address
  • Appears exceptionally fearful of law enforcement
  • Is not in control of their own schedule
  • Speaks of owing a high debt, despite having no assets
  • Is compensated for work only through gratuities
  • Works excessive hours and not allowed breaks
  • Has inconsistencies in their stories
  • Lacks general knowledge of the region in which they reside
  • Has a skewed sense of time

While these key indicators can apply to other situations, you must intervene if human trafficking is suspected. Do not approach employers about concerns, as this results in worsening conditions. Contact local authorities, or call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. You may also text HELP to: BeFree (233733).