Unveiling the Reality: What Is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is a deeply disturbing crime that affects millions of people worldwide. It is a crime that hides in plain sight, often going unnoticed by many. In this post, we want to share information about what human trafficking is, its different forms, and its connection to immigration.

What Is Human Trafficking?

The most common misconception is that smuggling, kidnapping, and trafficking are the same or closely related. However, these are distinct concepts with significant differences:


  • Trafficking doesn’t require the physical transportation of victims, meaning they can be trafficked without ever being kidnapped or physically abducted.
  • Trafficking can involve various forms of exploitation, such as sexual exploitation or forced labor.
  • It doesn’t necessarily involve physical force; traffickers often use psychological tactics like deception, manipulation, or threats to control victims.


  • Smuggling is distinct from trafficking as it requires the consent of the individual being smuggled. The person being smuggled typically agrees to be transported across borders illegally.
  • Smuggling usually relates to immigration violations and the illegal crossing of international borders.
  • Unlike trafficking, smuggling doesn’t inherently involve exploitation or forced labor; it primarily concerns illegal border crossing.

So what is trafficking exactly? Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. It is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that currently denies freedom to 24.9 million people all across the world. It involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of people through force, coercion, or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for various purposes, typically profit. 

Under US law, human trafficking is defined as “the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person into commercial sex acts or labor or services against his or her will.”

Key Aspects of Human Trafficking

  • No Consent: The core element of trafficking is that victims do not willingly agree to their exploitation. They are either deceived into it, coerced, or forced against their will. There is the exception of minors and commercial sex, as a child cannot consent, regardless of there being force, fraud, or coercion, or not.
  • Exploitation: Traffickers exploit victims for financial gain, personal profit, or even sadistic pleasure.
  • Vulnerability: Many victims of trafficking are in vulnerable situations, making them easier targets. These include migrants, runaways, refugees, and those living in poverty.
  • Movement: The trafficker or victim do not have to move across a border for a human trafficking offense to occur.

The Different Forms of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is a complex crime. It does not always take shape in the same way, often adapting to the circumstances and opportunities available to the trafficker. Below are the main categories of human trafficking, with sex and labor trafficking being the most common.

  • Sex Trafficking: when victims are forced into prostitution, pornography, or other forms of sexual exploitation against their will, often under the threat of violence or harm to their families.
  • Labor Trafficking: when victims are subjected to forced labor under exploitative conditions with little or no pay, often in hazardous environments and industries such as agriculture, construction, domestic work, or manufacturing. 
  • Child Trafficking: when child victims are subjected to sexual exploitation, child labor, child soldiering, or adoption under false pretenses.
  • Organ Trafficking: when victims are forced to sell their organs on the black market.
  • Forced Marriage: when victims are forced into marriages against their will, often involving coercion or deception.

Who are the Traffickers and Victims?

Both traffickers and their victims come from a variety of ethnic, social and economic backgrounds. Trafficking can happen to people of all ages and backgrounds, including men, women, and children, and it occurs all over the world.

While there isn’t a specific type of person who becomes a victim of trafficking, some groups are more at risk than others. For example, people who don’t have jobs, who lack legal permission to stay in a country, or who don’t speak the local language might be more vulnerable.

Traffickers have varying relationships with their victims, from being someone you know well and think you can trust, like a family member, to someone you barely know, like a friend of a friend . In these different relationships, traffickers use different tricks to control their victims, like being violent or lying about job offers or educational opportunities. 

It’s important to remember that survivors are never at fault for what happens to them. However, if you’re in a group that’s more vulnerable, it’s important to be cautious and aware of potential dangers.

Immigration Opportunities for Trafficking Survivors 

It is vital to consider the support and opportunities for survivors to seek safety and justice when addressing human trafficking. Unfortunately, undocumented migrants can be highly vulnerable to becoming trafficking victims, as they often lack many options and a supportive network. In such circumstances, individuals may be more susceptible to accepting opportunities without questioning their authenticity. 

Many immigrants come to the US with the promise of education or employment from family members or employers, only to find out it was all a lie, leaving them in unimaginable situations and often without legal status. Thankfully, there are opportunities for survivors without legal immigration status, including relief through immigration channels. Several immigration options are available for trafficking survivors in the United States, depending on the specifics of where and how the trafficking occurred.

  • T Visa: Trafficking survivors who cooperate with law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of traffickers may be eligible for a T Visa. This visa allows survivors to remain in the United States temporarily and eventually apply for permanent residency. A qualifying factor is that the individual is in the US on account of trafficking.
  • U Visa: survivors of certain crimes, including human trafficking-related offenses, can apply for a U Visa, which grants temporary legal status and can lead to permanent residency. The crime does have to occur in the US, but the status of the trafficker does not impact the eligibility of the survivor.
  • Asylum and Withholding of Removal: survivors who fear persecution or harm if they return to their home countries due to their trafficking experience may be eligible for asylum or withholding of removal.
  • Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS): Minors who have been subjected to trafficking may be eligible for SIJS, a pathway to lawful permanent residency in the United States.

These immigration opportunities aim to provide safety and protection for trafficking survivors, allowing them to rebuild their lives in a secure environment. If you are an immigrant in the US and believe you have been a victim of trafficking that qualifies for one of these options, it is important to consult an experienced immigration attorney to best explore your options. At Hope Immigration, we take pride in assisting survivors in achieving legal status and changing their lives for the better through these immigration opportunities. To discover more about your immigration possibilities, consider scheduling a consultation with our attorney, Tracie, here.

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