What is Human Trafficking?

Number of Victims in PA since 2007

Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery that occurs in every state, including Pennsylvania. We know this is an extremely underreported crime.

Since 2007, the Human Trafficking Hotline has identified 1,897 cases of human trafficking. 4,048 victims were identified in these cases.

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking is exploitation by use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel labor or sexual acts. Usually human trafficking is broken into two categories: labor trafficking and sex trafficking. Additionally, under federal law any minor who is induced into commercial sex acts is considered a victim of human trafficking whether or not force, fraud, or coercion are used.

So what exactly do force, fraud, and coercion mean? Traffickers manipulate victims’ behavior using violence, lies, intimidation, emotional abuse, and threats. While kidnapping and using physical force to detain victims does occur, many traffickers use psychological means to control victims.

Number of human trafficking  victims identified in Pennsylvania by the National Human Trafficking Hotline…

In 2019
In 2020
In 2021

I’ve heard of human trafficking in other countries, but that doesn’t happen where I live, does it?

Human trafficking occurs in all areas of the world. What is not well understood by many people is that it happens in every state of our nation. Human trafficking is taking place right now in cities, suburbs, and rural areas across our country, not far from where we work and live. In our experience working with survivors, we know that human trafficking is happening in our area of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia suburbs.

How does human trafficking happen?

There are many ways that human traffickers operate to exploit others. One common method that sex traffickers use is to target individuals in whom they perceive a need or a vulnerability. The trafficker will then groom the individual by gaining their trust and promising to fill their need in some way. Over time they use their position of trust to gain control over the individual. They may do this by using isolation, gaslighting, intimidation, threats, physical or sexual abuse, and/or controlling the victim’s finances. Because of the subversive nature of this crime it is often difficult to detect.

Who are the victims of human trafficking?

Human trafficking can and does happen across every socioeconomic status, age, nationality, gender, and race. With that said, there are some risk factors and trends in the statistics. In the United States, women and girls make up a majority of sex trafficking victims. It is extremely common for exploitation to begin when a person is a minor and continue into their adulthood. Risk factors for being sex trafficked include recent relocation, being a runaway youth, unstable housing, poverty, substance abuse, and mental health concerns.

Who are human traffickers?

There are many ways that traffickers operate so they come from a variety of backgrounds. Frequently, traffickers are people that the victim knows intimately, including family members or romantic partners. Traffickers can be men or women. Some traffickers are business owners, others are members of a gang or criminal network. Still others are individual pimps working on their own. Some traffickers control one victim and some control many. The common thread is that they exploit others for their own profit.

What challenges do survivors of human trafficking face, even after leaving the situation?

Survivors face the challenge of rebuilding their life completely after they have left a trafficking situation. Typically they require help with filling basic needs including housing, food, clothing, etc. Another challenge is that many survivors do not have a supportive network of people around them. Without their basic needs met, and people to help them move forward, some survivors face the challenge of relapse. Many survivors also struggle with mental health and trauma symptoms that can get in the way of their everyday lives. When learning to live independently, a survivor needs to be able to find employment to sustain themselves. This is frequently a challenge for various reasons including gaps in education or employment history, difficulty passing a background check, and trauma symptoms that make the workplace hard to navigate. This is why SAGE has made providing employment and social support central to our efforts in lifting survivors.

What can I do to fight against human trafficking?

Something that anyone can do is help raise awareness in their community. Many individuals are not aware of what human trafficking actually looks like and how prevalent it is. Make an effort to educate yourself and share what you know with others around you. Engage your faith community in the conversation. Follow the links below if you want to become more informed about human trafficking. You can also donate time or money to support organizations who are fighting against trafficking.

What are the signs of human trafficking?

It can be difficult to identify when human trafficking is happening. Here are some common warning signs, although this list is not exhaustive:

  • Difficulty making eye contact or speaking for themselves
  • Does not have their own identification papers
  • Shows signs of physical abuse
  • Works long and unusual hours
  • Lives at their place of employment
  • Is with someone that seems to control their every move or isolate them from family and friends
  • Unable to travel freely on their own
  • Lacks personal possessions
  • Tattoos or branding
  • Lacks healthcare or appears malnourished
  • A minor who has stopped attending school


What should I do if I suspect human trafficking is occurring?

Call your local law enforcement or contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline by phone 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733.

Links For More Info: