The Issue

What is Human Trafficking?

  • Human trafficking is the illegal trade in human beings for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor or a modern day form of slavery. It is estimated that 27 million people are enslaved worldwide. 80% are believed to be female, 50% are believed to be minors.
  • Some people have the misconception that human trafficking only happens in third-world countries, which is false. While it is true that trafficking occurs more often in less developed countries (due to vulnerability in poverty, and conflict/war), nearly every country in the world is affected by human trafficking. Countries may be the origin, transit, and/or destination for victims.
  • The United States is affected by trafficking as well. It is estimated that 14,500-17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year.

Because of the nature of human trafficking, it is difficult to measure just how vast the problem is across the country and around the globe. Here are some of the statistics used in the industry, along with their source.

Find other resources to learn about human trafficking by clicking here.

By The Numbers

  • It is estimated that there are 27 million human beings enslaved in the world today. (
  • 1.2 million children are trafficked each year around the world. (International Labor Organization)
  • 14,500-17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. annually. (U.S. State Department)
  • Human trafficking is the 2nd largest and fastest-growing criminal industry. (U.S. State Department)
  • Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry. (International Labor Organization)
  • The average global price of a human being is $90.
  • The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 5.5 million victims of child trafficking worldwide.
  • Some runaway groups estimate that 1 in 3 young people is solicited for sex within 48 hours of running away or becoming homeless in the U.S.
  • The average age of entry into the sex trade is 13 years old (Shared Hope).
  • At least 100,000 American children are being exploited through pornography or prostitution every year (Shared Hope).
  • FBI estimates that nearly 300,000 American youths are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
  • The number of U.S. victims of trafficking is largely unknown.


Slave – A person held against his or her will and controlled physically or psychologically by violence or its threat for the purpose of appropriating their labor.

Human Trafficking – The illegal trade of human beings, through abduction, the use of threat of force, deception, fraud, or “sale” for the purposes of sexual exploitation or forced labor.

Sex Trafficking – The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act. When an adult is coerced, forced, or deceived into prostitution – or maintained in prostitution through one of these means after initially consenting – that person is a victim of trafficking.

Commercial Sex Act – Any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person.

Coercion – Threats of serious harm or physical restraint against any person; any scheme, plan or pattern intended to cause a person to believe that failure to perform an act would result in serious harm to or physical restraint against any person; or threatened abuse of legal process.

Bonded Labor – One form of coercion is the use of a bond or debt. Some workers inherit debt; for example, in South Asia it is estimated that there are millions of trafficking victims working to pay off their ancestors’ debts. Others fall victim to traffickers or recruiters who unlawfully exploit an initial debt assumed as a term of employment.

Contract Slavery – Relatively modern form of slavery, where a worker is deceived into slavery through the use of a false employment contract.

Debt Bondage Slavery – begins when a person accepts a loan from a moneylender, often in order to purchase basic necessities such as food or medicine. The person (and often his or her family as well) is held as collateral against the loan. Because they are collateral, their work does not repay the debt but ‘belongs’ to the moneylender. Unable to earn money independently, the family is unable to repay the illegal debt and it is passed down from generation to generation, creating hereditary enslavement.

Exploitation – Exploitation begins the moment the slave is acquired. Slaves are raped, tortured, starved, humiliated, and drugged during transportation, both for the pleasure of traffickers and also to break the slaves to make them more submissive upon sale

Forced Labor – Forced labor, sometimes also referred to as labor trafficking, encompasses the range of activities – recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining – involved when a person uses force or physical threats, psychological coercion, abuse of the legal process, deception, or other coercive means to compel someone to work

Grooming – Generally, grooming is a phased, gradual process used by perpetrators to sexually exploit children and young people.

*All definitions are according to Human Trafficking Search: The Global Resource & Database.