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  • Writer's pictureElijah Ugoh

Forms of Trafficking in Persons in the U.S.

Forms of Trafficking in Persons in the U.S.
Forms of Trafficking in Persons in the U.S.

Ary and Rangsei are two siblings from a Cambodian family of 5. The two sisters are the eldest of their siblings. At the age of 14 and 16, respectively, Ary and Rangsei had to work to support their parents, as their family is pretty poor, as their mother didn't earn enough to cater to the needs of her four kids.

Last week, a distant uncle of the family arrived in the city and offered to help Ary and Rangsei find a job in Malaysia, where he is based. This big uncle is known among the local folks to help young people get jobs in big cities around the world. Their mom happily accepted the offer. In a week’s time, the siblings would be saying goodbye to their family and poor home to resume work as domestic staff somewhere in the heart of Singapore.

The Switch - Becoming a Victim of Human Trafficking

Something changed when they arrived in Singapore. The big uncle announced to the siblings that they would first work to clear their travel expenses before they could start earning to send money back home. In addition to that, Rangsei, the eldest, had no domestic placement, so she was asked to resume work the next evening in a massage parlor somewhere else in the city. It's either they accept the terms or find their way back home. Five months later, both sisters have not seen each other and are still working under compulsion.

Interestingly, this is the case for a lot of migrant laborers in the United States today. Labor trafficking is mostly seen in agricultural fields, retail businesses, private and residential group homes, construction sites, factories, restaurants, bars, and some community events. Many victims become ‘runaways’ after a while. Some of them — because of the language barrier, fear, and ignorance of where to seek help — remain in forced labor and are even trafficked for sex in brothels. Human trafficking takes many forms, but the most gruesome and popular types are sex trafficking, forced labor, and debt bondage.

In this post, we’ll throw some more light on these and other types of human trafficking prevalent in the U.S.

Sex Trafficking

Besides labor trafficking, sex trafficking is another major form of human trafficking in play today. In fact, in the U.S., it takes another grave dimension known as domestic minor sex trafficking or sexual exploitation of children. In this case, minors, teenagers, including runaways, are recruited by pimps or traffickers and forced into transactional sex trade.

Typical locations where sex trafficking can be found include beauty salons, hotels and motels, casinos, bus stations, massage parlors and spas, streets, and strip clubs, to a few. In fact, sex trafficking is now being propagated through internet-initiated transactions. Typical examples used to be Backpage and, of course, child or teen porn sites.

Debt Bondage

Debt bondage is a type of forced labor in which an individual or a trafficked person is kept under forced domestic servitude or another type of work due to debt owed to the employer. However, debt bondage differs from forced labor because the victim typically enters into a contract arrangement willingly in an attempt to pay off a “loan.” But oftentimes, the victim becomes trapped in an unending cycle of debt with no possibility of ever paying off the debt.

Migrant laborers are typically at risk in this case. According to the San Mateo Commission on the Status of Women, factors that constitute debt bondage include abuse of employment contracts; inadequate local laws governing the recruitment and employment of migrant laborers (this explains the situation of Ary and her sister above); and the imposition of exploitative and often illegal debts on migrant laborers in the source country.

Involuntary Domestic Servitude

Domestic Servitude is a form of modern-day slavery that mainly affects women and children. It is predominant in large households and private domestic dwellings. Domestic workers in this category could be trafficked into the destination country or sourced locally. The degree of vulnerabilities, in this case, is especially high because these are largely informal workers who live where they work. So these places are not open to regular investigations like public places.

Many of them are abused, molested sexually, and underpaid (if at all they are paid. Many simply work to earn a living and have shelter). In some cases, when a domestic worker realizes that they must remain with their original employer or face deportation, they are discouraged from ever reporting the abuse to the authorities.

Forced Marriage

This is a fraudulent marriage where there is no genuine intention by one or both parties to enter into a marriage relationship legally. This could exist as child marriage or sham marriage, where the child or teenager involved has no say in the entire process. This often occurs as a result of coercion or deceit. In most cases, the child becomes a victim of sex trafficking later.

Organ Trafficking

Organ trafficking is another form of human trafficking, where traffickers or criminals in this category exploit the desperate needs of the recipients (people with failing health) and also the desperation of the donors to improve their economic conditions. In most cases, people who perpetrate this kind of crime have legitimate professions and have been found to be doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, and so on.

Signs of Human Trafficking

Increasing awareness campaigns for human trafficking also involves educating people to identify the signs of trafficking when they see one. If you met Ary at the local grocery store, chances are, you wouldn’t suspect in the slightest that she was under forced labor. However, there are indicators that may help any random person spot a trafficked person. According to San Francisco Human Rights Commission, a person who has been trafficked may:

  • Show signs of being manipulated or controlled

  • Have false identity or travel documents

  • Does not know their home or work address

  • Cannot access their earnings

  • Is unable to negotiate working conditions

  • Work excessively long hours over long periods

  • Limited or no social interaction

  • Have limited contact with their families or with people outside of their immediate environment

The Mission Haven is Helping to Improve the Life of Survivors

At The Mission Haven, we are committed to providing a comprehensive and transformational Haven of Healing to victims and survivors of child sexual exploitation and sex trafficking. We believe that these children still have a chance at life at its best, and we need every support we can get to continue to provide the pillar of support that they need.

You, too, can help by staying aware and reporting any trafficking case to trafficking hotlines or volunteer your time and resources. At the Mission Haven, this matter is near and dear to our hearts, and we’re committed to helping rescue and rehabilitate as many victims as we can. You can join us today if you wish to give, volunteer, or partner with us.


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