Human Trafficking 101 | Basics

1. Human Trafficking Defined

The United States defines the crime of human trafficking – or “trafficking in persons” – in the federal Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act. There are two categories of human trafficking:

Sex Trafficking

Adults are victims of sex trafficking when they are induced by force, fraud, or coercion to perform a commercial sex act.

Minors (under age 18) are victims of the crime of sex trafficking when they are induced to perform a commercial sex act, even if the elements of force, fraud, or coercion are not present.

Labor Trafficking

Adults and minors are victims of the crime of labor trafficking when they are recruited, harbored, transported, provided, or obtained for labor or services through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Reference: U.S. State Department

2. A-M-P Model

Figuring out whether the crime of human trafficking has been committed is not as clear cut as one might think. Complex facts and situations can make it very difficult to determine if someone is a victim of human trafficking or a different crime.

With all the “gray area” involved, the Action-Means-Purpose (AMP) Model is extremely helpful. The AMP model lays out the elements of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. By viewing the facts of a case through the AMP Model, it’s easier to determine if all the necessary factors are in place to say for sure that a person has been a victim of the crime of human trafficking.

Why is it important to be so picky about whether someone has been a victim of human trafficking? If they’ve been harmed, shouldn’t they be helped?

All people harmed by crimes deserve to receive help that is specified for their situation. However, federal and state funds, as well as specific programming, is set aside for victims of the crime of human trafficking. Additionally, those who have suffered at the hands of a trafficker deal with a very specific, complex, and intense kind of trauma. Determining that they are in fact human trafficking victims makes it more likely that they’ll get the highly expert assistance they need to move forward.

The AMP Model in Action

Human trafficking occurs when a perpetrator – a trafficker – participates in at least one element out of each category of the AMP Model.

3. Red Flags and Indicators

You can watch for certain red flags – circumstances that indicate the possibility of human trafficking. You might see these at your work place, getting gas, while traveling, or notice them in one of your child’s friends.

Red Flags for Human Trafficking in General

– Shares a scripted or inconsistent history

– Is unwilling or hesitant to answer questions about an injury or illness

– Is accompanied by an individual who does not let them speak for themselves, refuses to let the person have privacy, or who interprets for them

– Evidence of controlling or dominating relationships (excessive concerns about pleasing a family member, romantic partner, or employer)

– Demonstrates fearful or nervous behavior or avoids eye contact

– Is resistant to assistance or demonstrates hostile behavior

– Is unable to provide his/her address

– Is not aware of his/her location, the current date, or time

– Is not in possession of his/her identification documents

– Is not in control of his or her own money

– Is not being paid or wages are withheld

Labor Trafficking Indicators

– Has been abused at work or threatened with harm by an employer or supervisor


– Is not allowed to take adequate breaks, food, or water while at work


– Is not provided with adequate personal protective equipment for hazardous work


– Was recruited for different work than he/she is currently doing


– Is required to live in housing provided by employer


– Has a debt to employer or recruiter that he/she cannot pay off

Sex Trafficking Indicators

– Under the age of 18 and involved in the commercial sex industry


– Has tattoos or other forms of branding, such as tattoos that say, “Daddy,” “Property of…,” “For sale,” etc.


– Reports an unusually high numbers of sexual partners


– Does not have appropriate clothing for the weather or venue

– Uses language common in the commercial sex industry

4. Vulnerable Populations

There is no single “profile” for a victim of the crime of human trafficking. Individuals harmed by perpetrators of this crime are as diverse as the entire human race. This terrible crime can happen to someone from any race, socio-economic status, education level, sexual orientation, or gender.

That said, individuals who find themselves in a human trafficking situation may share some common traits that increase their vulnerability to being targeted by these criminals. Traffickers often prey upon victims who they perceive as vulnerable because they may find it easier to lure these individuals in with lies and manipulation.

Common Circumstances in Vulnerable Populations


– Minors

– Runaway youth

– Low self-esteem, depression

– History of sexual abuse, physical abuse, or other trauma

– Low income

– Parent, guardian has substance abuse issues

– Developmentally, cognitively delayed or disabled

– History with Child Protective Services (CPS)/foster care

– Estranged from family or support system because of LGBTQ identity

– Those engaged in survival sex

Now test your knowledge!

QUIZ – HT 101 | Basics