Human trafficking, believed to be the third-largest criminal activity in the world, is a form of human slavery that must be addressed at the interagency level. Human trafficking includes forced labor, domestic servitude, and commercial sex trafficking. It involves both U.S. citizens and foreigners alike, and has no demographic restrictions. The FBI works human trafficking cases under its Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking program. The majority of human trafficking victims in our cases are U.S. citizens, and we take a victim-centered approach in investigating such cases, which means working to address the victim's needs first.
Here in this country, people are being bought, sold, and smuggled like modern-day slaves, often beaten, starved, and forced to work as prostitutes or to take jobs as migrant, domestic, restaurant, or factory workers with little or no pay. Human trafficking is a heinous crime that exploits the most vulnerable in society.
Under the HumanTrafficking program, the Bureau investigates:
- Sex Trafficking: When persons, both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals, are compelled to engage in commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Sex trafficking of a minor occurs when the victim is under the age of 18. For these cases it is not necessary to prove force, fraud, or coercion.
- Labor Trafficking: When persons, both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals, are compelled to performed labor or services through the use of force, threats of force, physical restraint, or threats of physical restraint; serious harm or threats of serious harm; abuse or threatened abuse of law or legal process; or coercion.
The most effective way to investigate human trafficking is through a collaborative, multi-agency approach with our federal, state, local, and tribal partners.
- FBI Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces operate within nearly every FBI field office to collaborate with state and local law enforcement agencies in combating human trafficking. The ultimate goal of these task forces is to recover victims and investigate traffickers at the state and federal level.
- The Anti-Trafficking Coordination Team Initiative builds human trafficking enforcement efforts and enhances access to specialized human trafficking subject matter experts, leads, and intelligence. Each team develops and implements a strategic action plan, which leads to high-impact federal investigations and prosecutions. The initiative is a collaborative effort among the FBI, the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Labor. Twelve FBI field offices participate in the initiative, including Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, El Paso, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Memphis, Miami, Minneapolis, Newark, Portland, and Sacramento.
- The Enhanced Collaborative Model Human Trafficking Program is a multi-agency task force initiative funded through the Office for Victims of Crime and Bureau of Justice Assistance. This program supports the development and enhancement of multidisciplinary human trafficking task forces that implement collaborative approaches to combat all forms of human trafficking. These multidisciplinary task forces include members from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, local prosecutor’s office, federal law enforcement, state/local law enforcement, and a community service provider, with the goal of proactively identifying and recovering victims of human trafficking.
As a result of the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), law enforcement was given the ability to protect international victims of human trafficking through several forms of immigration relief, including Continued Presence and the T visa. Continued Presence allows law enforcement officers to request temporary legal status in the United States for a foreign national whose presence is necessary for the continued success of a human trafficking investigation. The T visa allows foreign victims of human trafficking to become temporary U.S. residents, through which they may become eligible for permanent residency after three years. The TVPA also established a law requiring defendants of human trafficking investigations to pay restitution to the victims they exploited.
The TVPA, passed to create the first comprehensive federal law to address human trafficking, provided a three-pronged approach to addressing trafficking. In addition to the protections offered through immigration relief for foreign national victims of human trafficking, it also focuses on prevention through public awareness programs, both domestically and abroad, and prosecution through new federal criminal statutes. As a result of the TVPA and subsequent reauthorizations, the FBI has been provided with statutory authority to investigate matters of forced labor; trafficking with respect to peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude, or forced labor; sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion; and unlawful conduct with respect to documents in furtherance of trafficking. More on human trafficking laws.
FBI human trafficking investigations are conducted by agents within the Human Trafficking program and members of our task forces. Often, investigations involving human trafficking come to the attention of field offices and task forces through:
- Citizen complaints;
- The National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline;
- A referral from a law enforcement agency;
- A referral from non-government organizations;
- Proactive victim recovery operations; and
- Outreach to state government and community entities.
During a human trafficking investigation, the primary goal of investigators is the recovery of victims in order to remove them from an environment of violence and exploitation. Program representatives work with victim advocates and organizations that are able to provide victims of human trafficking with immediate assistance (shelter, food, clothing) and long-term support services (counseling, education assistance, job training). After recovering a victim of human trafficking, field offices seek to arrest and successfully prosecution the traffickers.
The Bureau’s Human Trafficking program has also successfully used lawful, sophisticated techniques— such as undercover investigations and Title III wire intercepts—to take down trafficking organizations, recover victims, and intercept traffickers before they are able to victimize others.
Over the past decade, the FBI’s human trafficking investigations have been responsible for the arrest of more than 2,000 traffickers and the recovery of numerous victims. The FBI will continue to take part in multi-agency efforts to combat the threat; provide outreach to law enforcement and community organizations to aid in the awareness of the threat, proper investigative techniques, and identification of trafficking victims; and train international entities on how to identify victims of trafficking so that the Bureau and other law enforcement can intercept them before they are victimized by traffickers in the United States.
Innocence Lost National Initiative
The FBI, in conjunction with the Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), launched the Innocence Lost National Initiative to address the growing problem of child sex trafficking in the United States. In the years since its inception, the initiative has expanded to 85 dedicated Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces. These task forces, with the Offices of the U.S. Attorneys and the FBI's Victims Services Division, have successfully worked to rescue thousands of children.
Partnership with NCMEC
FBI personnel assigned to NCMEC review information that is provided to NCMEC's CyberTipline. The tipline receives reports of child sexual exploitation incidents via an online form. NCMEC also maintains a 24-hour hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST and a website.
The FBI is committed to ensuring that victims receive the rights they are entitled to and the assistance they need to cope with crime. Treating victims with respect and providing them with assistance benefits victims and helps us build better cases. Our resources include the Victim Services Division at FBI Headquarters and victim specialists nationwide.
Trafficking in Persons (human trafficking) is a violation of federal civil rights laws. Investigating these crimes and protecting victims is one of the FBI's top priorities.
If you believe you are the victim of a trafficking situation or have information about a potential trafficking situation, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888. NHTRC is a national, toll-free hotline, with specialists available to answer calls from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also submit a tip on the NHTRC website.