About Human Trafficking

Q: What is the simplest way to explain human trafficking?

The commonly accepted international definition of human trafficking comes from the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, which is one of three Protocols known collectively as the Palermo Protocols. The best way to understand human trafficking is to split it into its three elements; each element must be present to establish a case of trafficking. Ask yourself – has there been:

The ACT – What is done

e.g. recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons.

The MEANS – How it is done

e.g. threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or position of vulnerability, giving or receiving of payments/benefits.

The PURPOSE – Why it is done

e.g. prostitution, sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery, servitude, removal of organs.

Where the suspected victim is a child, it’s only necessary to demonstrate that the ‘act’ and ‘exploitation’ elements exist. Read more on our Human Trafficking pages.

Q: Is it only human trafficking if victims are transported across national borders?

No! The Protocol recognizes a number of ‘acts’ (transfer, recruitment, harbouring or receipt of persons) but it doesn’t specify that those actions need to cross borders. When someone is moved from place to place or town to town within a country as a result of transport, transfer, recruitment, harboring or receipt of persons they are also trafficked. This kind of trafficking within a country is called ‘internal trafficking’. When a person has moved or been moved across a national border it is ‘external trafficking’. Both types are prohibited by the Protocol. Read more on our Human Trafficking pages.

Q: What if people travel willingly to the country where they are exploited?

The Protocol answers this question. Take ‘Jacob’ as an example. Jacob responds to a job posting offering certain wages and accommodation for work in a UK city. This seems a great opportunity and Jacob travels to the city willingly. Jacob has been recruited for work by the person who posted the advertisement and he has transported himself; either the recruitment or the transport is enough to satisfy the ‘act’ element from the Protocol’s definition of trafficking.

When Jacob arrives for the job he’s told he has to pay off the cost of the accommodation he’s offered but with deductions for food and transport to and from work, and with the unreasonably low wages Jacob will never have enough money to pay off the accommodation. Now he’s trapped in a cycle of debt. Jacob was promised certain work and conditions but the promise has turned out to be false; he was deceived into travelling to the UK city, that deception is the ‘means’ element of the definition.

The fact that Jacob works for no real pay because of all those unreasonable deductions means he is being exploited. He is a victim of exploitation for forced labour. The labour is forced because he does it under ‘menace or penalty’, the penalty being that he must pay off his debt. Jacob transported himself (‘act’), he did this because he was deceived (‘means’) and now he’s been exploited to work for no real pay (‘exploitation’). Jacob is a trafficking victim, despite having made his initial journey to the UK freely. Read more on our Human Trafficking pages.

Q: What if people aren’t kept captive physically, is that still trafficking?

Force, abduction, physical confinement and rough handling is what we most often associate with trafficking; someone tied to a bed or locked in a trailer, for example.

But traffickers more often use psychological or emotional manipulation, such as threats against the victim’s family, debt bondage, the use of shame as a weapon, insidious threats of violence, or the long-term ‘grooming’ of a victim to believe the trafficker is their lover or friend. Traffickers may manipulate their victims by creating fear of others; there have been instances of traffickers dressing as police officers before raping a victim. Acts like this falsely convince a victim that the police cannot be trusted and should be feared. There has been an increasing trend of traffickers targeting vulnerable groups in society for recruiting victims. Their vulnerabilities make them easy to control without needing to resort to physical measures. Common examples include alcoholics and the homeless.

Q: Is there really a lot of trafficking in the US, UK or Norway? Isn’t it a ‘developing world’ problem?

Trafficking is a global problem and it’s happening in our communities, perhaps even on our street. It is now thought to be the third biggest criminal enterprise in the world.

The International Labour Organization estimates that forced labour in the private economy generates US$150 billion in illegal profits per year. Since people pay more for services in ‘developed’ nations, there is more profit to be made from forced labour and sex trafficking in nations like our own than in ‘developing’ countries. Read more on our Human Trafficking pages.

Q: How trustworthy are the statistics?

It’s impossible to know the exact number of victims because it’s a hidden crime. The most reliable global estimate comes from the International Labour Organization, a specialised agency of the UN. Its current estimate is 24.9 million people in forced labour, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude, plus another 15.4 million in forced marriages, for a total of 40.3 million people.

In the UK, work by the Home Office Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Bernard Silverman, has estimated that in 2013 there were between 10,000 and 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery in the UK. However, in August 2017, the National Crime Agency (NCA) suggested that figure was too low and that there are actually ‘tens of thousands’ of victims. Will Kerr, the NCA’s Director of Vulnerabilities, said: “The growing body of evidence we are collecting points to the scale being far larger than anyone had previously thought. The intelligence we are gaining is showing that there are likely to be far more victims out there, and the numbers of victims in the UK has been underestimated.”

Hope for Justice agrees with that analysis. It is important, however, not to become distracted or overwhelmed by the statistics, but to remember instead that behind every single number is a real human being, each with their own story and their own hopes and dreams, cruelly ripped away from them by those seeking to profit from misery and abuse.

Q: How can I spot the signs in my own community?

Each case of trafficking and modern slavery looks different, although there are some common indicators of trafficking and more specific ones for each type of trafficking. The existence of any one or even a number of indicators is not proof, but combined with your best judgement it is sensible to report any concerns about an individual or yourself to Hope for Justice. Learn to spot the signs here.

Q: What should I do if I suspect trafficking?

If you or someone else is in immediate danger, call the police. Otherwise, contact Hope for Justice:

Reporting in the UK:
Contact Hope for Justice on 0300 008 8000 (local rate call) or email info.uk@hopeforjustice.org

Reporting in the US:
Contact Hope for Justice on 615.356.0946 or email info.us@hopeforjustice.org

Reporting in other countries:

Contact local law enforcement.

If you report potential trafficking activity to Hope for Justice, we will try to keep you informed about the progress of the case. However, the information we gather following a report is often subject to confidentiality. While we understand you may want to be kept fully informed, this is not always possible or appropriate.