Human trafficking involves using force, fraud, or coercion in exchange for labor, services, or a commercial sex act.

Causing someone under the age of 18 to engage in a commercial sex act, regardless of using force, fraud, or coercion, is human traffick
ing under U.S. law. Human traffickers use force, fraud, and coercion to control and exploit victims.

These forms include imposing debt, fraudulent employment opportunities, false promises of love or a better life, psychological coercion, and violence or
The crime of human trafficking hinges on the exploitation of another person. People often falsely believe “human trafficking” implies
victims must be moved from one place to another to qualify as a victim. Human trafficking does not require transportation to be

considered a crime. It is a crime that can be committed against an individual who has never left his or her hometown.

Who are the Victims?

Human trafficking victims can be of any age, race, gender identity, sex, ethnicity, nationality, immigration status, and socioeconomic class.
In many cases, victims do not come forward to seek help because they are vulnerable, potential language barriers may exist, they

have a fear of law enforcement, or they do not identify as a victim.

Human traffickers exploit many vulnerabilities to victimize people. Vulnerabilities for children can include a lack of safety at home
from violence, abuse, and neglect; homelessness or runaway status; and a lack of proper care in the child welfare system. Other

vulnerabilities for adults and children can include lacking trust in government institutions, economic hardship, isolation from

family and/or community, and displacement from natural disasters.

Victims are found in legitimate and illegitimate industries, including primarily:

Sex Trafficking: escort services, illicit massage services, outdoor sexual solicitation, residential brothels, bars, and strip clubs, pornography production, personal sexual servitude, and live streaming of sexual exploitation.

Forced Labor: domestic work (such as housekeepers), traveling sales crews, restaurants, peddling and begging, agriculture (field/farm work), beauty services, construction, hotels, landscaping, entertainment, commercial cleaning services, manufacturing, fishing, mining, carnivals, forestry, healthcare, recreational facilities, and even criminal enterprises (such as illicit drug dealing). DHS law enforcement identifies hundreds of girls, boys, women, and men as victims of human trafficking in the United States annually. The National Human Trafficking Hotline also receives thousands of contacts annually from people in areas all across the United States.

How Do I Identify Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is often “hidden in plain sight.” Recognizing the signs is the first step in identifying victims. No single indicator is proof that human trafficking is occurring. The indicators listed below are a few examples that may alert you to a potential human trafficking situation:


Does the potential victim:
Experience verbal or physical abuse (particularly from a supervisor), prevented from taking adequate breaks, made to work in unsafe conditions, or forced to meet daily quotas?
Work excessively long and/or unusual hours?
Accept a specific job but feel forced into a different job?
Appear to be living at his or her place of work?
Receive paychecks with negative balances or unreasonably low amounts for the pay period?

Is the employer or someone else:

Creating debt for the potential victim or adding to a never-ending debt balance?
Processing payroll infrequently, not giving worker’s compensation insurance outlays where mandated, or forcing the potential victim to transfer funds to an employer’s account?
Escorting the potential victim to the bank and/or using his or her bank accounts?
Threatening the potential victim with deportation, arrest, or jail?
In possession of the potential victim’s identification, travel documents, money, or cell phone?
Forcing, defrauding, or coercing the potential victim to engage in a commercial sex act?


Does the potential victim:
Act fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous, particularly around their work or someone they know?
Defer to another person to speak for him or her and avoid eye contact?
Show signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture?
Show signs of being harmed or deprived of food, water, sleep, medical care, other necessities, or personal possessions?


Is someone else:
Restricting the potential victim’s contact with friends or family?
Limiting the potential victim’s social media use and/or stalking or monitoring their accounts?
Preventing the potential victim from socializing or attending religious services?
Preventing children from attending school and forcing them to work?
Holding a large group in one place with poor conditions and limited space?
Constantly watching or accompanying the potential victim?
Threatening the potential victim or his or her family with harm if he or she leaves or quits work?
Posting harmful content online about the potential victim to compel him or her to engage in a commercial sex act?


Is someone under 18 engaged in a commercial sex act?
Causing someone under 18 to engage in a commercial sex act, regardless of using force, fraud, or coercion, is human trafficking under U.S. law.

What Should I Do Next?

If the answer is YES to any number of the above questions:

Report suspected human trafficking to the Homeland Security Investigations Tip Line at 1-866-347-2423 or
Get help from the National Human Trafficking Hotline by calling 1-888-373-7888 or texting HELP or INFO to 233733 (BEFREE).
If you have information on goods produced with forced labor destined for importation into the United States, provide it to CBP at and HSI at


Human trafficking victims have experienced significant trauma and harm. Victims may be unable or prevented from getting help due to existing vulnerabilities. Treating victims with care and respect is essential, as getting immediate, professional support ensures a victim-centered and trauma-informed response.
Visit for additional resources to combat human trafficking.
Read the DHS Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking, Importing Goods Produced with Forced Labor, and Child Sexual Exploitation.

“What is Human Trafficking” infographic
Click here to download the inforgraphic PDF

“What is Human Trafficking” infographic

“What is Human Trafficking” infographic