Between 21 million and 30 million men, women and children are enslaved today. That means there are more slaves now than during all the years of the entire transatlantic slave trade combined.


"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 in remarks to the Clinton Global Initiative in 2012


Modern Slavery Defined

Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery that occurs when one person exerts control over another person in order to exploit them economically. In this scenario, the victim is controlled through manipulation, violence, or the threat of violence and cannot walk away.   

The definition of human trafficking, as outlined in the UN Protocol, has three main components:  

  • The Action; which means the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons
  • The Means; which includes threat of or use of force, deception, coercion, abuse of power or position of vulnerability
  • The Purpose; which is always exploitation. Article 3 of the UN Protocol says exploitation "shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs;"

Human trafficking is further broken down into two forms: labor trafficking and sex trafficking. Labor trafficking occurs in contexts that can include all forms of labor and services, including domestic servitude, sweat shops, and farm laborers forced to work without pay. Sex trafficking occurs in contexts that encompass the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), as well as all adults who engage in a commercial sex act because of force, fraud, or coercion.  

While all human trafficking involves exploitation, not all forms of labor or sexual exploitation are considered human trafficking. 


Slavery In the United States

Though modern slavery is a hidden crime that is difficult to quantify, the U.S. government and academic researchers are working to develop better estimates of trafficked persons in the United States. We are careful not to use hyperbole or sensationalize this complex and systemic problem, and the reality of what survivors have endured needs no embellishing.

These statistics help paint a picture of slavery in the U.S. today: 

The percent of victims in confirmed sex trafficking cases in the U.S. that are U.S. citizens. U.S. Department of Justice, 2011

The percent of victims in confirmed sex trafficking cases in the U.S. that are U.S. citizens.
U.S. Department of Justice, 2011

Over 30% of unauthorized spanish-speaking migrant workers in San Diego County alone have experienced labor trafficking. Zhang, 2012 study funded by the NIJ

Over 30% of unauthorized spanish-speaking migrant workers in San Diego County alone have experienced labor trafficking.
Zhang, 2012 study funded by the NIJ

Between 100,000 - 300,000 children are at risk to be forced into the commercial sex industry in the U.S. each year. Estes & Weiner, 2001

Between 100,000 - 300,000 children are at risk to be forced into the commercial sex industry in the U.S. each year.
Estes & Weiner, 2001

The percent of U.S. counties with populations over 250,000 that reported sex trafficking was a significant problem. NACo, 2014

The percent of U.S. counties with populations over 250,000 that reported sex trafficking was a significant problem.
NACo, 2014