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June 03, 2014

Human Trafficking by the Numbers

“It ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime. I’m talking about the injustice, the outrage, of human trafficking, which must be called by its true name - - modern slavery.”- President Barack Obama, September 25, 2012

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Human Trafficking Defined:

Human trafficking is a human rights violation that, at its heart, involves the practice of holding another person in compelled service by force, fraud, or coercion. Traffickers profit from this practice by controlling their victims and exploiting them for labor and/or sexual exploitation.

Under U.S. law, trafficking in persons is defined as “sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such 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.”[1]

Human trafficking can be a transnational process where victims are recruited abroad and transported across borders into another country where they are exploited for labor and/or sex. However, human trafficking can also be a domestic phenomenon, where little or no transportation is required.

A Global Problem:

  • As of 2012, an estimated 21 million victims were trapped in modern-day slavery around the world, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO). Of these, 2.2 million were exploited in state-imposed forced labor, 4.5 million were sexually exploited, and 14.5 million were exploited for labor.
  • It is estimated that 55% of trafficking victims around the world are women and girls and 45% are men and boys.
  • Human trafficking earns profits of roughly $150 billion a year for traffickers, according to an ILO study released in May 2014.  The following is a breakdown of profits, by sector:
    • $99 billion from commercial sexual exploitation
    • $34 billion in construction, manufacturing, mining and utilities
    • $9 billion in agriculture, including forestry and fishing
    • $8 billion dollars is saved annually by private households that employ domestic workers under conditions of forced labor
  • It is estimated that 5.5 million children are sex or labor slaves worldwide – roughly a quarter of all of the victims.
  • In 2012, according to the US State Department, there were only 7,705 prosecutions and 4,746 convictions for trafficking globally.
  • Of the estimated 14.5 million forced labor victims worldwide, only 1,153 cases of forced labor were prosecuted globally in 2012, according to the US Department of State.
  • In 2011, the Department of Justice prosecuted a total of 125 human trafficking cases, up from 103 in 2010.  In 2012, 128 prosecutions of human trafficking were initiated at the federal level.
  • According to the 2013 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report published annually by the US Department of State, prison sentences for traffickers in the U.S. ranged from probation to life imprisonment; the average prison sentence for federal trafficking crimes during FY 2012 was nine years.
  • According to the 2013 TIP report, during the reporting period, U.S. federal prosecutors secured life sentences against both sex and labor traffickers in four cases, including a sentence of life plus 20 years, the longest sentence ever imposed in a labor trafficking case.
  • Out of the 5,000 visas available annually for trafficking victims in the United States – called T-Visas – only  447 were issued in 2010, 557 were issued in 2011, and 674 were issued in 2012.
  • The National Human Trafficking Resource Center received 31,945 calls in 2013.

Human Rights First’s anti-trafficking campaign focuses on disrupting the “slavery exploitation network” – the range of criminal enterprises that organize and profit from modern day slavery. Our goal is to reduce the incidence of trafficking and disrupt the business operations of traffickers, by promoting policies and generating political will to increase the risks, penalties, and punishments for those who exploit other human beings.


[1] 22 U.S.C. § 7102(9).