Fact Sheet

August 15, 2006

Contact: HHS Press Office
(202) 690-6343

HHS Fights to Stem Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is an offense against human dignity, a crime in which human beings, many of them teenagers and young children, are bought and sold and often sexually abused by violent criminals. Our nation is determined to fight and end this modern form of slavery.

President George W. Bush at the signing of H.R. 972, Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act

January 10, 2006

Human Trafficking

Trafficking in human beings is a modern-day form of slavery, “a brutal crime that steals innocence and destroys lives,” as President Bush has said. Approximately 600,000 to 800,000 men, women and children annually are trafficked across international borders worldwide, and an estimated 14,500 to 17,500 of those victims are trafficked into the United States, according to the U.S. Department of State. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), a United Nations Agency, millions more are trafficked within their own countries.

Many victims of human trafficking are forced to work in prostitution or the sex- entertainment industry. But trafficking also occurs in forms of labor exploitation, such as domestic servitude, restaurant work, janitorial work, sweatshop factory work and migrant agricultural work.

Traffickers use various techniques to instill fear in victims, and to keep them enslaved. Some traffickers keep their victims under lock and key. However, the more frequent practice is to use less obvious techniques, including the following:

  • Debt bondage;
  • Isolation from the public—limiting contact with outsiders and making sure that any contact is monitored or superficial in nature;
  • Isolation from family members and members of their ethnic and religious community;
  • Confiscation of passports, visas and/or identification documents;
  • Use or threat of violence toward victims and/or families of victims;
  • Threat of shaming victims by exposing circumstances to family;
  • Telling victims they will be imprisoned or deported for immigration violations if they contact authorities; and
  • Control of victims’ money, e.g., holding it for “safe-keeping.”

Human trafficking fuels major financial enterprises, meanwhile holding men, women and children prisoner and exploiting them with no end in sight. After drug dealing, trafficking of humans is tied with arms dealing as the second-largest criminal industry in the world, and is the fastest-growing. All too often it is hidden from sight and invisible to the general public. Human trafficking is a multi-dimensional threat; it deprives people of their human rights and freedoms, is a global health risk, and fuels the growth of organized crime.

An Important Issue for the United States

Human trafficking is an important issue for the United States. Victims are generally trafficked into the United States from Asia, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe. They are often so frightened of suffering further harm that they avoid contact with any Government officials. They rarely have any understanding of their right to protection.

Public and private organizations are helping more adults and children to have safer lives every year. HHS announced on May 22, 2006, that it had certified its 1,000th victim of human trafficking in the United States since the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) (Pub. L. 106-386) went into effect in October 2000. This legislation created an Office on Trafficking in Persons within the HHS Administration on Children and Families (ACF). In April 2004, HHS/ACF began a campaign entitled Rescue and Restore to increase public awareness of human trafficking. Since then, the number of certifications has been increasing every year.

Adults identified by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as victims of human trafficking are referred to HHS, the Agency designated to help certify victims of human trafficking in the United States as eligible to receive benefits and services so they can rebuild their lives safely. Children are issued “letters of eligibility” for such benefits and services. In cases where minors have been in the country but only later become identified as victims of trafficking, evaluations are made as to eligibility for benefits and services. The benefits include cash assistance and medical care, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, food stamps and other federally funded or administered benefits and services. Young people who have been victims of trafficking and choose to cooperate with law enforcement officials to prosecute traffickers can benefit from a new streamlined process to apply for and receive federal financial aid for college.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005 (TVPA) reauthorization, signed by President Bush on January 10, 2006, directed the HHS Secretary and the U.S. Attorney General to conduct an annual conference on severe forms of human trafficking in 2006, 2007, 2008, and, thereafter, one on a biennial basis. A conference on human trafficking will be held early October 2006, bringing together a group of law enforcement officers, victim advocates, justice professionals and faith-based groups to discuss the complex issues surrounding human trafficking. The Act also directed HHS to make grants to States, Indian tribes, units of local Government and non-profit, non-governmental victims’ organizations to strengthen services in the United States or in places of U.S. territorial jurisdiction for victims of trafficking who are U.S. citizens or aliens admitted for permanent residence. In addition, HHS will carry out pilot programs to establish residential treatment facilities in the United States for children and teenagers subjected to domestic trafficking.

On December 3, 2005, the United States became an official party to the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. President Bush signed the instrument of ratification for the Convention and its protocols on October 19, 2005, and Secretary of State Rice countersigned it on October 25, 2005. In ratifying the Convention, the United States joins 94 other countries in becoming party to the Convention’s supplementary Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, and its Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air. In mid 2006, there are 100 countries party to the first supplementary protocol and 91 to the second protocol.

The Convention is the first legally binding multilateral instrument that specifically targets transnational crime, and sets a framework for international cooperation for providing assistance between countries to combat the serious worldwide threat of such crimes.

The U.S. Government made the announcement of the ratification on December 2, 2005, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, which commemorates the adoption by United Nations of the Convention for the Suppression of Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others on December 2, 1949.

HHS’ Role in the International Fight Against Trafficking

HHS is active in the fight against human trafficking, and its Operating and Staff Divisions offer hope and assistance to people entangled in the web of human trafficking.

The HHS Administration for Children and Families (ACF) has a special concern for children who are victimized. Child victims of trafficking are often exploited for commercial sex, including prostitution, pornography and sex tourism. Americans who travel abroad to prey sexually on children can be prosecuted and sentenced for up to 30 years in prison. Sometimes children are forced to engage in other illegal activities, such as drug dealing, or are subjected to domestic servitude or manual labor under difficult and unsafe conditions. HHS/ACF is supporting public awareness and media campaigns in Mexico and Brazil to strongly discourage child sex tourism and alert potential victims to the dangers of trafficking including that of health risks and the consequent need for health care.

HHS has partnered with faith-based and community groups to form anti-trafficking coalitions in 17 major cities across the United States.

The HHS Office of Global Health Affairs (OGHA) joins with both U.S. Government agencies and international organizations to fight trafficking across borders and within national borders as well.

HHS Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funds research on infectious disease and sexual coercion, both common in victims of trafficking. Women who have suffered nonconsensual sex should have both HIV/AIDS tests and, if needed, post-exposure prophylaxis with antiretroviral treatment to help protect them against HIV/AIDS. Health threats to trafficked women include HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases, severe mental problems, and problems with access to health care. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief notes under prevention strategies that individuals who are exploited through the sex trade, victims of rape and sexual assault are at particularly high risk for contracting HIV/AIDS. Partnerships between health, civil, and security officials are needed to most effectively assist these women.

The HHS/CDC has a five-year cooperative agreement with the Ministry of Health of Tanzania to expand HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases surveillance, care and preventive activities in Tanzania. This program will have supplementary funding for establishing and carrying out a program to increase public awareness of HIV/AIDS, particularly among potential victims of trafficking in Tanzania. Trafficking is a serious problem in Tanzania. Carrying messages about trafficking and the risk of HIV/AIDS and other diseases will allow HHS/CDC to determine if this an effective approach.

Major Public-Awareness Campaign in the United States

As part of the U.S. Government’s effort to combat human trafficking, in March 2004, HHS/ACF initiated the Campaign to Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking to alert the American public to the presence of trafficking victims in our own communities. The HHS/ACF national campaign reaches out to help victims of this crime and aims to guide those who might discover them. This campaign is based upon the concept that it is unlikely victims will be found and rescued in significant numbers until the American people gain a much greater awareness of the scope and challenges of human trafficking. HHS/ACF has translated informational materials into many languages, available from HHS/ACF. The campaign teaches the public that a victim of human trafficking may be identified by a combination of signs such as being controlled, an inability to move or leave a job, bruises or other signs such as battering, fear or depression, lack of a passport, being non-English speaking or having been recently brought to this country. The Campaign to Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking relies on a coalition of those likely to encounter victims: law-enforcement officials, health-care providers, faith-based communities and other first responders. The campaign maintains a round-the-clock toll-free number (1.888.3737.888). Currently the HHS/ACF Rescue and Restore coalition consists of 800 local and national partners throughout the country, including the Ricky Martin Foundation, which has developed English and Spanish public-service announcements on trafficking. The campaign continues to enroll partners and has had a high level of media coverage since its rollout in April 2004.

U.S. Departments and Agencies

In addition to HHS, other Federal Departments that play a major role in enforcing the law or assisting victims of human trafficking include the U.S. Departments of State, Justice, Labor and Homeland Security (with two components—the Bureau of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.) The U.S. Department of Justice has focused on identifying child victims of trafficking, and in the past four years it has more than tripled the number of criminal cases brought against traffickers. The Department of Housing and Urban Development works to provide safe public housing and crime-free communities and cooperates with those organizations and agencies helping to find housing for victims of trafficking. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment Standards Administration Wage and Hour Division enforce labor laws that cover children and migrant or temporary workers. The U.S. State Department is working extensively in countries across the world on action plans for the prevention of trafficking, the protection of victims, and the prosecution of traffickers. It issues an annual report to assess the Government’s response in each country that has a significant number of victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons.

On June 5, 2006, the U.S. Department of State released the 2006 Trafficking in Persons Report. In a letter accompanying the report, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated, “The movement to end trafficking in persons is more than a human rights objective; it is a matter of global security.” The 149-country report is the most comprehensive worldwide report on the efforts of Governments to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons. This year’s focus is on forced labor trafficking, including domestic servitude and debt bondage.


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Last revised: October 3 006