Human trafficking is the illegal exploitation of a person. Anyone can be a victim of human trafficking, and it can occur in any U.S. community—cities, suburbs, and even rural areas. The FBI works human trafficking cases under its Crimes Against Children and Human Trafficking program. We take a trauma informed, victim-centered approach in investigating these cases.
Here in the United States, both U.S. residents and foreign nationals are being bought and sold like modern-day slaves. Traffickers use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to exploit victims. Victims are 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 human trafficking program, the FBI investigates:
- Sex trafficking: When individuals are compelled by force, fraud, or coercion to engage in commercial sex acts. Sex trafficking of a minor occurs when the victim is under the age of 18. For cases involving minors, it is not necessary to prove force, fraud, or coercion.
- Labor trafficking: When individuals are compelled by force, threats, or fraud to perform labor or service.
- Domestic servitude: When individuals within a household appear to be nannies, housekeepers, or other types of domestic workers, but they are being controlled and exploited.
Report Trafficking & Get Help
If you are a human trafficking victim or have information about a potential trafficking situation, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733. 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.
If you believe a child is involved in a trafficking situation, submit a tip through the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s CyberTipline or call 1-800-THE-LOST. FBI personnel assigned to NCMEC review information that is provided to the CyberTipline.
Human Trafficking Task Forces
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. 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 Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime and Bureau of Justice Assistance. This program supports the development and enhancement of multi-disciplinary human trafficking task forces that implement collaborative approaches to combat all forms of human trafficking. These multi-disciplinary 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.
Human trafficking investigations are conducted by agents within the human trafficking program and members of our task forces. Investigations often begin through:
- Tips from the public
- Calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline
- A referral from a law enforcement agency
- A referral from a non-government organization
- Proactive victim recovery operations
- Outreach to state governments and community entities
Victim recovery is the primary goal of trafficking investigations. The FBI’s multi-disciplinary team of agents, analysts, victim specialists, and forensic interviewers work together to ensure a victim-centered, trauma-informed response. FBI victim specialists work with local state and federal resources to provide immediate assistance (shelter, food, clothing) and long-term support (counseling, education assistance, job training). After recovering a victim of human trafficking, field offices seek to arrest and successfully prosecute the traffickers.
Over the past decade, the FBI’s human trafficking investigations have been responsible for the arrest of thousands of traffickers and the recovery of numerous victims. The FBI will continue to take part in multi-agency efforts to combat the threat.
Trafficking Victims Protection Act
The 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was the first comprehensive federal law to address human trafficking. In addition to the protections offered through immigration relief for foreign national victims of human trafficking, it focuses on prevention through public awareness programs, both domestically and abroad, and prosecution through new federal criminal statutes.
The TVPA granted the FBI the 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.
The TVPA gave law enforcement 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 and apply 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. More on human trafficking laws.
Innocence Lost National Initiative
The FBI, in conjunction with the Department of Justice’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the National Center for Missing & 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 86 dedicated Child Exploitation and Human Trafficking Task Forces. These task forces, with the Offices of the U.S. Attorneys and the FBI’s Victim Services Division, have successfully worked to identify and recover thousands of children.
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.
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