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The Traffickers


Traffickers exploit others for the profit gained from forced labor and commercial sex. They lure and ensnare people into forced labor and sex trafficking by manipulating and exploiting their vulnerabilities. Human traffickers prey on people who are hoping for a better life, lack employment opportunities, have an unstable home life, or have a history of sexual or physical abuse. Traffickers promise a high-paying job, a loving relationship, or new and exciting opportunities and then use physical and psychological violence to control them. Traffickers can be lone individuals or part of extensive criminal networks, with the common thread of exploiting people for profit.

A wide range of criminals, including individual pimps, family operations, small businesses, loose-knit decentralized criminal networks, and international organized criminal operations, can be human traffickers. Often the traffickers and their victims share the same national, ethnic, or cultural background, allowing the trafficker to better understand and exploit the vulnerabilities of their victims. Traffickers can be foreign nationals and U.S. citizens, males and females, family members, intimate partners, acquaintances, and strangers. Based on human trafficking cases that have been identified by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, examples of traffickers may include:

  • Brothel and fake massage business owners and managers
  • Employers of domestic servants
  • Gangs and criminal networks
  • Growers and crew leaders in agriculture
  • Intimate partners/family members
  • Labor brokers
  • Factory owners and corporations
  • Pimps
  • Small business owners and managers

Ultimately, traffickers exist because human trafficking remains highly lucrative. There are two primary factors that drive human traffickers: high profits and low risk. This powerful combination is driving the explosive spread of human trafficking, making it one of the most profitable criminal industries in the world.

Human trafficking operations often intersect or exist alongside legitimate businesses and require a number of other actors and specific conditions in order to operate without detection. Certain industries are commonly used by traffickers to enable, support, or facilitate their human trafficking operations.

Business Industries that Traffickers Commonly Exploit

Exploiting these businesses is essential to trafficking networks; traffickers require space, advertising, transportation, and financial services to operate. In many cases, businesses are unaware of how their facilities or services are being used by traffickers. In other cases, they are aware of how their business may be facilitating the conditions needed for the trafficking operations, and the profits they generate outweigh reservations they may have about their role.

Traffickers may also use these business industries to help hide human trafficking crimes from authorities and increase the risk or difficulty for a potential victim to reach out for help.

Businesses or services that traffickers commonly exploit include:

  • Advertising (Online and Print)
  • Airlines, bus, rail, and taxi companies
  • Financial institutions, money transfer services, and informal cash transfer services
  • Hospitality industry, including hotels and motels
  • Labor brokers, recruitment agencies, or independent recruiters
  • Landlords
  • Travel and visa/passport services

Businesses offering these services have an important role in the fight against human trafficking. Understanding human trafficking and how their business model may be utilized by traffickers seeking to exploit others is a first step for effective change. Businesses in these industries have a unique chance to identify victims and report situations of trafficking. Furthermore, by strengthening internal processes, policies and transparency, businesses have the opportunity to make it more difficult for traffickers to use their business for criminal activities like human trafficking. By isolating traffickers and increasingly denying opportunities to work through legitimate businesses, trafficking operations will be more risky and more difficult to maintain.