Human Trafficking in the United States - Part 1

Dana E. Brede


Written by Dana E. Brede in collaboration with Britten L. Bolenbaugh

As defined in the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), human trafficking is defined as (Denver Anti-Trafficking Alliance):

1) Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.
2) 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 slavery1.

The topic of human trafficking and exploitation is one that I have spent a considerable amount of my adult life researching and dissecting. My thesis was on the topic of child exploitation/human trafficking throughout the international arena. Over the course of my years of research I have learned that while I desperately wish I could provide viable options/alternatives to existing policy and tangible solutions to human trafficking, I am simply ill equipped. Admittedly, the problem is bigger than me. It is bigger than all of us. Organized criminal groups both within the U.S. and throughout the global community are capitalizing on the profits from trafficking and exploiting people—profits of this heinous crime are upwards of $150 billion annually. Despite the myriad of laws in place that ban it, human trafficking is an exploitive illegal industry that involves a lot of actors ranging from victims (women, men and children), offenders (perpetrators, pimps, traffickers, etc.) and the consumers.

To add some perspective—victims of trafficking suffer some of the most severe human rights violations including rape, torture, unlawful confinement, as well as other harsh forms of physical, sexual and emotional violence. It goes without saying that a collaborative and multilateral effort is required to face crime of this type head on. While law enforcement and individual municipalities can chip away at the issue of trafficking one case at a time, it is going to take A LOT more to eliminate it entirely. It is defeating in a sense because I am naturally someone who wants to “fix” problems and help others. Similarly, I feel that you wouldn’t be considering a degree in criminology if you weren’t passionate about helping others. Whatever capacity you may find yourself pursuing (trust me—the opportunities are endless), I hope this blog post resonates with you.

I chose to collaborate with a dear friend, and former graduate school classmate, Britten Bolenbaugh. For years she has been my sound board on matters and topics such as these. Britten has travelled throughout the world, having been to Europe for NATO peace talks, the Middle East for cultural development, Africa to work with communities to fight the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and throughout the United States to feed her adventurous spirit and to expand her knowledge of people, places and things. She and I share a passion for education and fostering the next wave of learners that will ultimately carry the torch for necessary reform.

Even the best efforts and initiatives that are currently on the frontlines of fighting against human trafficking can attest to the uphill battle both local and international organizations are challenged with. At present, all I can confidently do is put my best foot forward in educating others about this topic and open the floor for discussion. Moreover, my intention for this post is to ruffle your feathers. I want you to be challenged and feel uncomfortable by the statistics and data that will be presented so that, as future professionals with careers in criminology, you can be a part of the solution to human trafficking. Human trafficking is not a new phenomenon. It will more than likely need to be addressed for years to come. No one organization or individual stands alone in the movement to eradicate human exploitation and trafficking.

Fast Facts:

  • The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million victims of human trafficking globally, including 5.5 million children. 55% are women and girls2.
  • Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide3.
  • Human trafficking is a global problem but can be seen everywhere.
  • The United States is a source and transit country, and is considered one of the top destination points for victims of trafficking and exploitation4.
  • Cases of human trafficking have been reported in all 50 U.S. states5.
  • Types of sex trafficking in the US include: bar/club operations (cantina bars, stripping or exotic dancing clubs, salons, massage parlors, hostess clubs and karaoke clubs, domestic strip clubs and gentleman clubs); residential brothel settings (homes, apartments, hotels, mobile trailers); escort services (bar/hotel based, internet-based, private, boat cruises, chat lines); pimp-controlled prostitution (hotel-based, internet-based, private parties, street-based, truck stops)6

Thinking like a criminologist: As an international, national, and local issue, it is imperative to define what human trafficking is, who is involved, why it takes place, where it takes place, and what is being done or could be done to combat it.  

Human trafficking is not solely an issue that happens to people in other countries or places far from the comfort of our local communities. It is an issue that hits a lot closer to home—for example, the Denver Stock Show—more on that in Part 2 of this series. Colorado, for example, with its international airport, considerable immigrant population and easy access to major interstate highways, makes it a destination and transit route for human trafficking. Human trafficking is not a problem that impacts people of one particular race, religion or socioeconomic background. It is a widespread, international issue. Further, while slavery is commonly believed to be a thing of the past, human trafficking still exists today. It is an industry that yields billions of dollars every year. There are a myriad of both domestic and international initiatives attempting to alleviate the plight of human trafficking, but unfortunately, in many cases they are not able to do so.

As quoted by the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Yury Fedotov:

“…[trafficking] in persons remains all too common, with all too few consequences for the perpetrators…It is equally clear that without robust criminal justice responses, human trafficking will remain a low-risk, high profit activity for criminals…90% of countries have legislation criminalizing human trafficking since the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, under the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, came into force more than a decade ago. Nevertheless, this legislation does not always comply with the Protocol, or does not cover all forms of trafficking and their victims, leaving far too many children, women and men vulnerable. Even where legislation is enacted, implementation often falls short"7.

“Even where legislation is enacted, implementation often falls short”…why? Why does implementation and enforcement of legislation fall short? NGOs, grassroots organizations, and law enforcement at every level ALL agree that human trafficking is wrong, illegal and must be stopped. However, despite the ink on the paper stating it is wrong, illegal, and must be stopped, little is done to effectively hold perpetrators accountable.”

Discussion question: What would a successful implementation of legislation to counter human trafficking look like? What qualities or traits would such a plan include or exclude?

Governments have established that an effective response to human trafficking must incorporate at least four main components. As outlined by the U.S. State Department and the UNODC the elements include: prevention, protection, persecution and partnership8. Moreover, to fully understand and grasp the complexities of prevention, protection, prosecution and partnerships, is to build up the strengths and address gaps in anti-human trafficking efforts9.

In closing, this post highlighted human sex trafficking, but human trafficking is more multifaceted. I leave you with a training and awareness film. "Affected for Life" is a 23-minute film that can enhance your understanding of the various forms of human trafficking and the lasting impact that it has on the life of its victims:

Also, as cited by The Colorado Project: if you believe you have a trafficking tip to report or need any further assistance, please call the CoNEHT hotline at 1-866-455-5075 or contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.

Please stay tuned for Human Trafficking in the United States PART 2 for ways that you can get involved to help address this multifaceted issue.

Want to learn more? Talk to an admissions counselor about how human trafficking ties into Regis University’s criminology degree programRequest information online or call us at 877-820-0581.

6CPPS. (2013). Colorado Human Trafficking Fact Sheet. Retrieved from http://www.htcourts.org/wp-content/uploads/CO-HT-Fact-Sheet-3.12.13.pdf?Factsheet=HT-CO
7(2014) Global Report of Trafficking in Persons 2014. UNODC. Retrieved from http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/glotip/GLOTIP_2014_full_report.pdf
8The Colorado Project Executive Summary. (2015). Retrieved from http://coloradoproject.combathumantrafficking.org/resultsandfindings/execsummary