Labor Trafficking In the United States: How do we, the public, help to uncover a covert crime?

Young man washing dishes in the back of a restaurant kitchen. It is important to highlight the different kinds of labor that trafficking victims do. Before my research into this topic, I thought of only people working in fields counted as labor trafficking, but there are so many other places that victims could be working.


Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. The correlation between slavery in American history is evident. Between the transportation of victims, the forced labor for zero pay, and the power dynamic between slave and slaver holders, everything in both circumstances looks exactly the same except for scale. Victims go unnoticed by law enforcement, government agencies, and the public every day. When one takes a closer look it feels like we are making almost no progress. In middle school, I did a small research paper where we were assigned a social justice issue; I was assigned human trafficking. Since it was middle school, I did not get to dive very deep into the topic, but it certainly sparked my interest because of the lack of websites and sources I was able to find then and how few sources that I read about solutions. Please read my full personal interest essay here if you would like!

Hello! Please enjoy my introduction video to labor trafficking and a little bit about how I first found interest in my topic and my small personal connection.

Historical Issue Essay:

I talked about the development of slavery and labor exploitation in American history. A huge portion of America’s past is labor exploitation through slavery, sharecropping, and tenancy. After the passage of the 13th amendment and the rapid decline of slavery throughout the United States, plantation owners developed a new form of labor exploitation, sharecropping, and tenancy. From there as time passed, technology developed and laws tightened, labor exploitation became more covert and hidden as a crime. One can trace the fine fine line between slavery and today’s human trafficking. These horrific practices that took place are when put in modern-day words, labor trafficking. Through laws and amendments that were passed to prohibit slavery, people have found loopholes and illegal practices to profit from similar types of exploitation. Please read the full essay here if you would like!

What You Need To Know:

There are millions of victims to labor trafficking every year that slide under the radar of law enforcement. Human trafficking as a whole is considered to be a “hidden crime.” The covertness of human trafficking allows pimps and traffickers to make an estimated total of 150 billion dollars every year (Human Rights First). The International Labor Organization estimates that 81% of victims of trafficking are exploited for labor. Unfortunately, as you can see in the graph to below, according to the Trafficking in Persons Report, the majority of human trafficking cases in the United States are commerical sex trafficking cases, not labor traffcking which completely contradicts the International Labor Organization’s estimates.

There is little reasoning for the lack of knowledge and reportings of the crime is unclear, but one can guess. The lack of reported cases can be attributed to a few things. First, and most importantly, the power imbalance between the victim and perportrator in a trafficking case causes the victim to be extremely fearful and unable to do anything about their sitaution. Tying into the power struggle, the victim can have very limited access to public information and education about trafficking, leading to a huge lack of education and lots of misinformation that is spouted by their trafficker. Victims may often be unaware of the danger that they are in, but their fear insticts often kick in.  

Victims of human trafficking are across the border. There are obvious trends between the different victims based on the type of trafficking. In sex trafficking, victims are most likely young women. But, labor trafficking has less specific and obvious trends. The most common venues of labor exploitation are “agriculture, hospitality, domestic service in private residences, construction, and restaurants”(Owens). Most commonly, agricultural laborers are men and domestic laborers are women, but their is a lot leniency in those trends. Contrary to popular belief, most victims of trafficking that are brouhgt into the country by recruiters come legally but overstay their visas. Recruiters usually go around the globe and throughout the United States to look for and collect victims. They then are coordinated with already establiched, larger organizations in the United States that uses and distributes the trafficking victims to clients. Traffickers are usually white, men, with ages upwards of fifty years old. 

Please read my full Present Day Problem and Solution Steps essay here if you would like. 

Infographic of the places around the countries around the world with estimated most victims of slavery and labor exploitation. Though I mainly focused in the United States for my project, I would suggest focusing on the staggering number of slaves that are currently suffering while a lot of people still believe that slavery has been completely abolished.

For Now:

 Micro (individual) Solutions

  1. Honestly, the best way to combat human trafficking on an individual basis is to educate yourself and raise awareness. 
  2. Find and support local and state-wide anti-trafficking organizations through donating (within your budget), attending fundraisers or other events that they host, and going with your organization to lobby for local and state legislation. Different organizations may have different levels of involvement
  3. Part of education and awareness is knowing the common signs of trafficking. Visit this website ( to learn more. One can also take courses offered by local organizations and law enforcement (look into based on your area). 
  4. Public Service Announcement: Involving yourself in a possible-trafficking situation is very dangerous for yourself and possible victims. If a trafficker finds out that somebody is aware of their crimes, they will either come for the person or hide themselves and their victims making it that much harder for law enforcement to find and arrest the perpetrators. If you suspect that somebody is in a bad situation, call the National Human Trafficking  Hotline and immediately notify your local law enforcement.

Macro (societal) Solutions 

  1. The U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking (TIP Office) works to engage international and national agency involvement in order to continue to fight human trafficking. This work needs to expand and support state organizations. This amplifies the resources that the government has overall. With each state focusing on trafficking in their area, the TIP Office has the opportunity to expand international programs. 
    1. The TIP Office should not only encourage state governments to work in their own states, but to communicate with neighboring states to ensure that traffickers cannot easily cross state lines. If traffickers cannot easily move cross country, they will have a harder time transporting and hiding victims from law enforcement. 
    2. The TIP Office should also educate state programs on their “3 Ps method” (Protection, Prosecution, and Prevention) with new annual updates with federal goals and have states set annual goals for themselves. These programs may seem simple, but have annual markers and goals to track success and improvement will continue to encourage people to fight human trafficking and see where there are faults in systems. 

Here is the link to my full Works Cited page.


Please let me know any reactions, but I am especially interested in your thoughts about my solution steps. I struggled with coming up with macro steps that seemed like they would actually help. Any of your ideas are gratefully appreciated!

Share this project

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.