Human trafficking and related offenses are federal crimes under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. But not everyone has a clear understanding of what constitutes human trafficking or how to identify a trafficking victim.
What is human trafficking?
Trafficking takes many forms. Although people usually associate trafficking with sex work, the definition is much broader, and includes activities related to the recruitment, transportation, harboring, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of exploitation, regardless of the type of work to be performed. Another common misperception is that people must be transported between locations against their will in order to be considered trafficking victims. However, people who relocate voluntarily or those who never leave their communities may also be considered trafficking victims.
For instance, employers may hold their employees’ passports and require them to work for low or no wages as repayment for being hired and/or brought to the United States. Employers may also threaten to have victims or their family members deported if they refuse to work. And while many trafficking victims are immigrants, traffickers also target vulnerable Americans, including children in the juvenile justice system, runaways, individuals with disabilities, and individuals with substance use disorders.
Human traffickers often prey on vulnerabilities such as poverty, lack of lawful immigration status or limited English proficiency – since these issues may make individuals feel they have no option but to continue working under poor conditions and/or for less than minimum wage.
Industries where human trafficking is found
While human trafficking can occur in virtually any industry, it’s well-documented in certain industries, including domestic service, construction, landscaping, salon services, massage parlors, food service, hospitality, and agriculture, among others.
Possible signs of human trafficking
Human trafficking can be difficult to detect because victims are often hidden from public view. But certain red flags could point to a potential trafficking situation. According to the U.S. State Department, these red flags can include a laborer living with their employer or living under poor conditions. When it’s impossible to speak to the individual alone, or if their answers appear scripted or rehearsed, or there are signs of physical violence, these could also be red flags. Situations where workers are unpaid or paid very little, or where the employer is holding the workers’ documents, are also possible signs of a potential trafficking situation.
Justice for victims
Those convicted under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act face severe penalties, including lengthy prison sentences. Trafficking victims can also file a civil lawsuit against their employer or others involved, including companies that turn a blind eye or enable trafficking activities on their properties. Victims may sue to receive financial compensation for economic, non-economic and punitive damages.
Protect your rights
If you or someone you know was a victim of human trafficking, discuss the matter with an experienced employment attorney to determine the best course of action in your situation. Contact Katz Melinger PLLC at 212-460-0047 or online.