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July 27, 2014

What Is Human Trafficking


What is Human Trafficking?


Part one of a serial discussion on Human Trafficking in the United States.

Preface: All of the organizations referenced in this post do outstanding work, and an examination and dissection of the term “human trafficking” should not reflect on their tireless efforts. It is common practice for researchers within (and without) fields of study to utilize slightly varying definitions for the same term. This post reflects a broader umbrella for the term and offers a definition which incorporates those offered by various organizations and governments, while recognizing other forms of trafficking, which may have been overlooked and/or which fail to receive much focus.


American history books lied to you. Slavery did not end in 1863 with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Slavery has existed in the United States, and worldwide, since that time. Codified, government supported, legal slavery is what the Emancipation Proclamation abolished. This series will examine the various ways modern-day slavery, or human trafficking, persists in the United States and start by examining the term “human trafficking,” which, for the purposes of Alders Ledge, will include labor, sex, organ (and other body parts), and blood trafficking, as well as child soldiers and forced marriages.



Several definitions of human trafficking have been proffered by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Polaris Project, the United States government, and anti-trafficking organizations, among others. Anyone curious for more information about modern-day slavery, how it compares to slavery of days past, and what it means in modern times may not discover the full scope of what trafficking entails upon initial review of “textbook” definitions, like the one cited below. Human trafficking transcends past notions of African slave labor brought to the United States via the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Alders Ledge will outline and justify the bases for more inclusive terminology to identify and encompass the various ways humans are exploited for profit by virtue of their bodies and expound upon the UNODC’s human trafficking definition.

A quick Google search of the term “human trafficking,” something the average American might undertake, yields this insufficient definition:


Unfortunately, this ambiguous wording does not recognize the many ways in which humans (and their parts) are trafficked, nor does it clarify what it means to “illegally move” people. This definition only focuses on two prevalent notions of slavery, labor and forced sex (not to be conflated with voluntary sex work, a discussion for another post). As Alders Ledge will demonstrate, there are several other ways humans are trafficked.



The UNODC offers a much more inclusive definition of trafficking:



UNODC recognizes “organ trafficking” as a form of human trafficking. For brevity’s sake, further discussion on what organ trafficking (and other individual subcategories of human trafficking) is will be presented in future blog posts. Of import, UNODC informs the means traffickers use to victimize: force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, power, and inducements. It does not, however, specifically name blood trafficking, child soldiers, or forced marriages, although the use of the words “for the purpose of exploitation” may consider any and all exploitative acts that meet the criteria.



Polaris Project, a leading anti-trafficking organization, references the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, and subsequent amendments, in defining human trafficking, legislation far too long to discuss here. The legislation focused on sex and labor trafficking. The US Department of State recognized child soldiers as a form of human trafficking in several of their reports, one of which is referenced below. Some anti-trafficking organizations concentrate on sex and labor trafficking and/or awareness campaigns while others take note to include trafficking of human organs and/or human sacrifices. However “blood trafficking” is not routinely included in definitions of, or discussions on, human trafficking, a phenomenon that scholars, researchers, academics, and journalists like Scott Carney observe.



Few will dispute that “human trafficking” encompasses sex, labor, and organ trafficking. The argument for including blood trafficking, child soldiers, and forced marriages under the human trafficking umbrella is made in a series of writings and articles listed here:

Blood Trafficking:
The Washington Times. (2012).
The Worst Form of Human Trafficking.

Child Soldiers:

Fordham International Law Journal (2007 vol. 31, issue 2, article 6)
Child Soldiers, Slavery and the Trafficking of Children 
US Department of State. (2011).
Trafficking in Persons Report.

Forced Marriages:


Rituals and Sacrifices:





Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies. (2012).
Ritual Killings and Human Sacrifice in Africa



Taking the above references, the fact that many trafficking organizations around the world cite UNODC’s definition of human trafficking, and the books and writings in the “Suggested Readings & Viewables” at the end of this post, Alders Ledge’s working use of the term “human trafficking” incorporates the UNODC definition and clarifies these exploitative acts:

"The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of 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 giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

Exploitation shall include, at a minimum:

  • the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation
  • forced labor or services 
  • slavery or practices similar to slavery
  • servitude or the removal of organs
  • use of any means outlined above to force a person to become a combatant or to serve combatants in armed conflicts
  • use of any means outlined above to take, receive, and/or supply human blood or body parts, whether for purposes of rituals, profit, or other exploitative reasons
  • use of any means outlined above to cause a person to enter into a marriage against their will, with or without monetary consideration

In upcoming posts, the series will delve into defining the different types of human trafficking and examine the scope of the problem within the continental United States. If you would like to promote human trafficking awareness, free posters and brochures can be obtained from the US Department of Health. Polaris Project provides trafficking hotline flyers in a variety of languages anyone can download and print, as well as a list of 10 ways anyone can promote trafficking awareness in a downloadable and printable informational handout.




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