Trafficking

Out of an estimated total of 14,500 - 17,500 individuals trafficked in 2004, 5,200 - 7,800 were Asians and Pacific Islanders, comprising the largest group of people trafficked into the U.S.

U.S. Department of Justice. Assessment of U.S. Government Activities to Combat Trafficking in Persons. Washington, D.C.: Author; 2004.

Trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring, provision, receipt, transportation and/or obtaining of individuals by using force or threats, coercion, fraud and/or using systems of indebtedness or debt bondage for purposes of economic exploitation that can include forced labor for domestic, industrial, agricultural or sex work; prostitution, pornography and sex tourism; removal and sale of organs; servitude, including servile marriages; and slavery.

Trafficking is fueled by demands for cheap, exploitable labor which have increased with globalization – which permits the free flow of capital but not labor. Some countries view trafficking as the only form of migration available to labor because all other sources are restricted or closed. They advocate safe migration as the way to halt trafficking. Complex ‘push-pull’ factors influence those who are trafficked including economic factors such as paying off family debts, escaping poverty, remitting earnings or escaping gender violence in the hopes of greater safety.

Sex trafficking predominantly victimizes women, and significant numbers of male and female children. It relies on the exploitation of female poverty (including the poverty of mothers who ‘sell’ their children) and the impunity of male demands for commodified sex. Political positions about sex trafficking are cause for heated controversy because they are connected to positions that argue for abolishing, decriminalizing or legalizing prostitution. We recommend that advocates become informed about these positions when working with anti-trafficking programs.

According to the U.S. Department of State, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked globally each year.1 Of the 45,000 to 50,000 that are brought to the U.S., 30,000 come from Asia, 10,000 from Latin America and 5,000 from other regions, such as the former Soviet Union. The primary Asian source countries to the U.S. are China, Thailand, and Vietnam. 2 Each year, two million children are forced into prostitution, half of whom live in and are trafficked within Asia. 3 For example, 15,000 children are trafficked in Cambodia4 and 200,000 Nepali girls, many under the age of 14, are prostituted in India. 5 The Thai government reports that 60,000 Thai children have been sold into prostitution, but non-governmental organization (NGO) experts estimate that the number is closer to 800,000 children. 6 Although trafficking into the U.S. and Europe has gained a lot of attention in recent years, anti-trafficking advocates in Asia have been addressing this problem on the continent for decades.


  1. U.S. Department of State (2005) Facts about Human Trafficking. Washington D.C.: Author
  2. Foo, Lora Jo. (2002). Asian American Women: Issues, Concerns, and Responsive Human and Civil Rights Advocacy. New York: Ford Foundation
  3. Smolenski, Carol. Director of End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism (ECPAT), USA, quoted in “Activists Unleash Campaign to Shut Down Sex Tours” in Christian Science Monitor, 16 Jan. 1999.
  4. Cambodia’s Women Development Association (no date) quoted in Pamphlet on Trafficking Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.
  5. ECPAT (1995) End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism: A short introduction to ECPAT and the issue of child sexual exploitation.
  6. Smolenski, C. See footnote 3.

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Resources from the API Institute

Trafficking: Considerations & Recommendations for Battered Women’s Advocates

A technical assistance brief for domestic violence programs to navigate the implications of serving trafficked women and adapt their policies and procedures accordingly, offering information and recommendations about:

  1. Arrest
  2. Custody and Release
  3. Legal Representation and the Investigation Process
  4. Endangerment and Confidentiality
  5. Shelter Services
  6. Medical Records and Care
  7. Complex Trauma and Oppressions

Health Issues Affecting Trafficked Individuals

Depression, malnutrition, physical and sexual violence, sexually transmitted infections, sleep deprivation, starvation, trauma, tuberculosis, urinary tract infections, untreated workplace injuries. Health problems affecting trafficked individuals can be contracted from the conditions prevalent in highly oppressive work environments, from unsafe immigration routes, and from the disease loads in sending countries. Socio-economic determinants like substandard housing, illiteracy, racism, etc., affect health and access to healthcare. How individuals and their health problems are treated will depend on where arrested trafficked individuals are located, what their status is, and what kind of evidence is required for legal proceedings.

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National Resources

Governmental Resources

The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPA) of 2003 steps up U.S. efforts against human trafficking and provides assistance to victims.

  1. DHS: Department of Homeland Security
    www.dhs.gov/files/programs/humantrafficking.shtm
  2. DHHS | Administration for Children & Families: Department of Health and Human Services: Campaign to Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking serves as a clearinghouse to help victims of human trafficking.
    www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking
  3. DOJ: Department of Justice: Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Taskforce Complaint Line. New laws provide options for trafficking victims regardless of immigration status. Operators have access to interpreters and can talk with callers in their own language. The service is offered on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST. After hours, information is available on tape in English, Spanish, Russian, and Mandarin.

    888-428-7581

  4. EEOC: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides assistance to victims of trafficking who are sexually harassed in the workplace. EEOC investigates complaints of sexual harassment and can file a lawsuit against the employer to obtain money for the victim including back-pay, compensatory damages (pain and suffering) and punitive damages, and to obtain injunctive relief. Federal law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age and disability, and prohibits retaliation against persons who protest discrimination. www.eeoc.gov or 800-669-4000
  5. OVC: Office for Victims of Crime
    www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc
  6. Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) | Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division (ATIP)
    www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking

Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

Directories, critical analysis, reports and other information can be obtained from:

  1. California Immigrant Policy Center Benefits for Immigrant Victims of Trafficking, Domestic Violence & Other Serious Crimes in California
    www.caimmigrant.org
  2. Futures Without Violence
    www.futureswithoutviolence.org/content/features/detail/794/
  3. Freedom Network
    www.freedomnetworkusa.org/
  4. Physicians for Human Rights Asylum Network
    physiciansforhumanrights.org/asylum/about/
  5. Protection Project, Johns Hopkins University
    www.protectionproject.org/
  6. Representing Survivors of Human Trafficking: A Promising Practices Handbook, Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC)
    www.ilrc.org
  7. A Guide for Non-Governmental Organizations (Trafficking in Persons)
    www.dol.gov/wb/media/reports/trafficking.htm
  8. VAWnet, National Resource Center on Domestic Violence snow.vawnet.org/global/human-trafficking.php
  9. American Bar Association
    www.americanbar.org/groups/domestic_violence.html
  10. Shared Hope International
    sharedhope.org

Interpreters for Trafficked Victims

  1. NAJIT: National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators
    www.najit.org
  2. National Association of the Deaf
    www.nad.org

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