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Overview of Human Trafficking
The United Nations defines
human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation. 
Human smuggling, a related but different crime, generally involves the consent of the person(s) being smuggled. These people often pay large sums of money to be smuggled across international borders. Once in the country of their final destination, they are generally left to their own devices. Smuggling becomes trafficking when the element of force or coercion is introduced.
The U.S. Government defines human trafficking as:
- Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.
- 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 slavery.
This modern slave trade is a threat to all nations. A grave human rights abuse, it promotes breakdown of families and communities, fuels organized crime, deprives countries of human capital, undermines public health, creates opportunities for extortion and subversion among government officials, and imposes large economic costs.
NIJ's Role in Human Trafficking Research
Through the funding of rigorous research, NIJ is committed to assisting with the detection and prosecution of human traffickers. NIJ-funded research projects focus on:
- The nature and extent of human trafficking
- Detecting and investigating traffickers
- Prosecuting traffickers
- Services for trafficking victims.
Human trafficking is a largely hidden crime that has only recently gained the attention of law enforcement, human rights advocates, and policymakers. Research in the field continues to evolve and has focused almost exclusively on the victims. Reliable data are needed, especially about the characteristics of victims and perpetrators, the mechanism of operations, and assessments of trends. In addition, law enforcement officials must overcome substantial legal, cultural, and organizational barriers to investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases. These barriers, and strategies to overcome them, are still being identified.
Review a list of NIJ-funded research and evaluation projects.
Read the following articles on NIJ.gov to learn more about select research findings:
State of Human Trafficking Research
Read a summary (pdf, 34 page) from an NIJ-convened working group that explored the current state of human trafficking research, identified persistent challenges, brainstorm solutions, and discussed priority topics for future research.
Date Modified: February 26, 2019