Defining some terms…

The distinguishing sign of slavery is to have a price,
and to be bought for it.

~ John Ruskin, English art critic and social thinker (1819-1900)

The definition of ‘human trafficking’ was the subject of many long and contentious conferences both within the U.S. and among international committees. The agreed upon working definitions vary somewhat according to jurisdiction, whether international, federal, or state. The United Nations definition, and the United States federal definition, are best illustrated on this chart:   Trafficking Definitions


  • Trafficking is not smuggling or forced movement, even though the word suggests the idea of movement. The “traffic” is the trading in humans — selling and buying, leasing and renting a fellow human being.
  • Trafficking may include, but does not require, transportation or border crossing. It does not happen only to immigrants or foreign nationals.
  • Trafficking may involve, but does not require, physical force, physical abuse, or physical restraint.
  • The consent of the victim is considered irrelevant, as is payment.


As defined in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the legal definition of “severe forms of trafficking in persons” is:
“sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; OR
the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”

Force involves the use of rape, beatings and confinement to control victims. Forceful violence is used especially during the early stages of victimization, known as the ‘seasoning process’, which is used to break victim’s resistance to make them easier to control.
Fraud often involves false offers that induce people into trafficking situations. For example, women and children will reply to advertisements promising jobs as waitresses, maids and dancers in other countries and are then trafficked for purposes of prostitution once they arrive at their destinations.
Coercion involves threats of serious harm to, or physical restraint of, any person; any scheme, plan or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that failure to perform an act would result in serious harm to or physical restraint against any person; or the abuse or threatened abuse of the legal process.

SEX TRAFFICKING may include all forms of commercial sex activity such as prostitution, massage parlors, escort services, pornography, exotic dancing, phone sex, and even the selling of child ‘brides’, as well as any commercial sex involving persons under 18 years of age. One study found that among prostituted persons 18 years or younger in the U.S., the average age of entry into prostitution was 13 years old! Most of these young girls were recruited or coerced into prostitution. The prostitution market is driven by customer demand for sexual service. Learn what you can do to help stop this abuse.

LABOR TRAFFICKING may occur in many fields that are not closely regulated. Manufacturing and agricultural settings are common. Domestic servitude occurs in homes. Landscaping, construction and restaurant businesses are frequent sites of labor abuse. Even street peddlers are often trafficking victims. Labor trafficking is not simply labor exploitation, or just a terrible job. It is not merely abusive or unsafe working conditions. The defining elements of slavery are what they have always been: a loss of freedom to walk away and ongoing commercial exploitation. You can learn how to recognize and report this crime.


Exploitation Creep and the Unmaking of Human Trafficking Law, Janie Chuang (Associate Professor at American University), February, 2014. This paper addresses issues that arise from the definitional debate surrounding the concepts ‘human trafficking,’ ‘forced labor,’ and ‘modern slavery.’

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One Response to “Defining some terms…”

  1. Human Trafficking in Michigan | Media Writing Class Says:

    […] If you’d like to read the legal definition of sex trafficking from The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, click here. […]

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