Types of Human Trafficking

By: Shaq Junaid and Tionne Barmer

With respect to knowledge of human trafficking in the public sphere, it’s often not always clear exactly what the issue is. In fact, we knew little about what human trafficking exactly was before applying for this trip. All we knew was that it was some form of modern-day slavery, in which humans are transported and manipulated involuntarily for others’ gain.

The United Nations describes human trafficking as:

“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

This definition captures the variety of ways that human trafficking occurs. While the types can be divided into countless subcategories, it’s possible to capture the scope with a few broad categories: Sex trafficking, forced military servitude, and various types of forced labor. For the sake of relevance, we focus on sex trafficking and labor trafficking in this post.

Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking is often what first comes to mind when thinking about human trafficking. It  is based on the interaction between the trafficker selling a victim (the individual being trafficked and sexually exploited) to customers to perform sexual services. These sex trafficking crimes are defined by three steps: acquisition, movement, and exploitation. The various types of sex trafficking are child sex tourism (CST), domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) or commercial sexual exploitation of children, and prostitution.

Prostitution can be a form of sex trafficking, but does not always have to be sex trafficking. Prostitution is the business or practice of engaging in sexual relations in exchange for payment or another benefit. Prostitution is sometimes described as commercial sex. It is one of the many branches of the sex industry. Estimates place the annual revenue generated by prostitution worldwide to be over $100 billion.

In San Diego, sex trafficking is prominent. In San Diego County alone, it generates up to $810 million annually for local gangs, with 11, 700 estimated victims.  The average age of a victim is between 15 and 16 years old. The problem hides in plain sight throughout the county, and it is very common to just see young,  aloof girls waiting at bus stops without boarding the bus.  While the issue is far more complicated than the pimp–young female victim model, its prominence in San Diego has recently led to the pursuit of new studies and initiatives that seek to raise awareness of its incidence.

Sex Trafficking San Diego

Forced Labor

Forced labor is perhaps the most akin to what we would think of as “modern slavery.” It is the most common type of human trafficking, encompassing about 60% of victims, yet is grossly under-recognized and prosecuted. It is especially notable that it occurs readily in industrialized countries, as immigrants from underdeveloped countries can be easily persuaded to leave their homes under false pretenses with regards to employment, whether that is in compensation, security, duration, or nature.

Forced labor often begins with the victim paying a “recruitment” fee, which begins the hopeless process of debt. In the U.S., 71% of these kind of smuggling occurs with a legal visa. There are no official estimates of exactly how many victims are smuggled in this way in the U.S. as a whole, and even rough estimates can be inaccurate. In an extensive study conducted by the DA office of San Diego, Pew Hispanic Center estimates deduced a number of about 39,000 victims of labor trafficking from Mexico just in San Diego County. As most of these laborers are already unauthorized, there is little precedence for reporting any exploitation or even being able to identify it in the first place.

The workers can be easily deported if they violate their “contractor’s” terms in any way, and as they face crippling debt and the lack of a home to return to, the laborers have are left with no choice other than to accept their conditions and hope for the best.

In the study, the San Diego DA office highlights the many challenges in policy and law enforcement to eradicate this issue, with the lack of clear, consistent data being a fundamental obstacle. For now, the possible solutions they offer focus on training of law enforcement and social service agencies, increasing penalties and legal deterrence, and finally, increasing public awareness.


  • http://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/Spotting-a-Victim-An-In-Depth-Look-Into-San-Diegos-Human-Trafficking-Industry–339689272.html
  • https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/240223.pdf
  • http://sf-hrc.org/what-human-trafficking
  • http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/endtrafficking/resource/fact-sheet-sex-trafficking-english
  • http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2009/123126.htm
  • http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2014/04/24/denise-brennan-examines-americas-labor-trafficking-problem