What is human trafficking?
Human trafficking, also known as “trafficking in persons,” is a crime that involves the exploitation of a person for compelled sex or labor. They may be compelled via force, fraud, or coercion, which may be subtle or overt, physical or psychological. However, force, fraud or coercion does not need to be present in a situation of sex trafficking of minors under the age of 18.
It is difficult to measure the magnitude of human trafficking in the United States. Victims and survivors of human trafficking are diverse in race, national origin, religion, age, gender, education level, and citizenship status. Human trafficking victims can be anyone.
The identity of traffickers is also varied. They can be foreign nationals or U.S. citizens. They can be family members, partners, acquaintances, or strangers to the victims.
How big a problem is human trafficking?
A report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that investigations and prosecutions for human trafficking increased substantially from FY 2011 to FY 2020. In FY 2020, 2,198 individuals were referred to U.S. Attorneys for human trafficking offenses, a 62% increase from 2011 (1,360 individuals). Additionally, there was an 84% increase in the number of people prosecuted for human trafficking offenses in FY 2020 (1,343 individuals) compared with FY 2011 (729 individuals).
While some statistics are available, they provide an incomplete picture of this complex issue. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, due to the nature of human trafficking, many of these crimes are never identified by local, state, Tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies that investigate them.
A National Institute of Justice (NIJ)-funded study “found that inadequate victim identification was a problem not only for law enforcement but also for victim service providers.”
What is OJP doing to address human trafficking?
OJP is committed to building the capacity of communities and stakeholders to respond to human trafficking in trauma-informed, victim-centered, and evidence-informed ways. The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) manages the largest amount of federal funding dedicated to the needs of human trafficking victims and multidisciplinary responses to human trafficking crimes. As of January 2023, this includes almost 500 awards totaling more than $320 million. This funding supports the following:
- services to victims
- as well as multidisciplinary teams
- statewide responses to child and youth trafficking
- training and technical assistance
Through its training and technical assistance (TTA) providers, OVC provides practitioner-driven, evidence-based support for victim services, multidisciplinary task forces and cross-sector collaboration. This support helps identify human trafficking victims and connect them to services.
In 2022, OVC released Child Victims and Witnesses Support Materials for use with young survivors of human trafficking. These materials help youth victims of trafficking between the ages of 12-18 learn how the justice system works, what their rights are, and more.
Between July 2021 and June 2022, OVC grantees implemented 192 awards which provided services to over 16,000 clients. 
OVC also announced a partnership with the Office on Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop standards of care for service providers supporting survivors of human trafficking and made an award to begin this important work.
The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) supports several programs to increase the availability of direct support services for children and youth who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation, facilitate outreach efforts, and develop organizations' capacities to identify and respond to this vulnerable population.
Through the funding of rigorous research and evaluation, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) supports the OJP’s human trafficking efforts with projects focused on:
- Strengthening the science of measuring the prevalence of human trafficking
- Preventing trafficking
- Improving the identification, investigation, and prosecution of traffickers
- Uncovering best practices for supporting services for victims
OJP strives to uphold the intent of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 to ensure that all trafficking victims — regardless of immigration status, gender, or form of trafficking — receive the services they need to heal in the aftermath of victimization.
More on Human Trafficking from OJP
Visit the following pages for additional information and resources produced or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs and other federal agencies:
|Justice System Response to Human Trafficking||Resources for Human Trafficking Victims and Service Providers||Additional Resources on Human Trafficking|
[note 1] Grantee data does not reflect prevalence, or all the work being done across the nation, nor do official statistics capture the full reality.
Two Primary Forms of Human Trafficking
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its subsequent reauthorizations recognize and define two primary forms of human trafficking:
- Sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act 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. (22 U.S.C. § 7102(11)(A)).
- Forced labor is 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. (22 U.S.C. § 7102(11)(B)).