Criminal Law

Hidden in Plain Sight: Human Trafficking

Human trafficking may be happening right outside your home.

The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department (ICE) began a new campaign to alert and educate people about this problem. This campaign, called "Hidden in Plain Sight," uses billboards that display the horrible, yet frequent, effects of human trafficking.

What Is Human Trafficking?

According to the ICE, an estimated 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked each year around the world. About 17,500 of them end up in the US. Immigration officials say the victims are often lured from their homes with false promises of well-paying jobs but are later forced into the sex trade, domestic servitude or labor.

Human trafficking is different from smuggling undocumented immigrants across the border; it's done unwillingly. People are abducted from their homes and forced to work. The victim isn't allowed to leave, and is required to work or provide services of some exploitive nature.

There may be a work contract, but no or low payment or on terms which are extremely unfair. Sometimes the arrangement is structured in a way the victim will never be able to pay it off, staying in servitude for life.

Victims are typically tricked and lured by false promises or are physically forced to participate in these arrangements. Traffickers use intimidation, lies, threats, physical force and debt bondage to keep victims under duress.

Is Trafficking Common?

Trafficking is a lucrative and common industry. In some places such as Russia, Hong Kong, Japan, Columbia and some Eastern European countries, large criminal organizations run rings. However, the majority is done by networks of smaller groups specializing in a specific area, such as recruitment, transportation, advertising or retail. It's very profitable because little start-up money is needed, and prosecution is rare.

Who Is Being Trafficked?

Trafficked people come from various countries and regions and are typically the most vulnerable and powerless minorities in a particular region. They're often from poor areas where opportunities are limited; ethnic minorities and they're often runaways or refugees.


Poor and desperate women are excellent targets, especially for the sex industry. They're promised good jobs or opportunities to study. Middle men arrange travel and job placements, escorting women to their destinations and delivered to their "employers."

Upon reaching their destinations, women learn they've been deceived the true nature of the work that they've been promised. Most are lied to about the financial arrangements and conditions of their employment and find themselves in coercive or abusive situations. Escape is both difficult and dangerous.


Thousands of children from Asia, Africa and South America get sold into the global sex trade every year. Often they are kidnapped or orphaned. Sometimes they are sold by their own families.

Trafficking children typically involves exploitation of their parents' extreme poverty. Parents may sell children to pay off debts or gain income. Or they may be deceived about the prospects of training and a better life for their children.


Men are also at risk of being trafficked for unskilled work, mostly involving forced labor. Other forms of trafficking include forced marriage and domestic servitude.  

Signs of Possible Trafficking Victim?

Here are some clues that may identify a possible trafficking victim:

  • The person is always accompanied by another person who appears controlling and won't speak on his or her own behalf
  • The person's ID and travel documents have been taken from them
  • The person has no control whatsoever over his or her own personal schedule or money
  • The person is always transported to or from work or lives and works in the same place
  • The person can't leave his or her job due to a debt owed to employer/owner
  • The person has injuries, bruises, appears depressed, scared or overly submissive

Human trafficking is a modern form of human slavery that hurts many people.

If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking, call the number on the billboard or contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888. They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In cases of emergency, call 911.

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