How Human Trafficking Works

Sex Trafficking and Labor Trafficking

Discussions of human trafficking are generally divided into two components: sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Sex trafficking tends to garner more headlines in the media due to its sensational nature, but labor trafficking is more common. Victims of labor trafficking might work in sweatshops, agriculture, mines, construction, service industries and restaurants. Younger victims may be exploited for their innocent looks and forced to beg on the street all day, with all the funds going to their captors, or they may be enlisted in armies as child soldiers. Working conditions, as you might imagine, are usually primitive and exploitative, and the workers are at great risk of physical injury.

Sex trafficking victims are forced into prostitution, pornography and other commercial sex acts, such as performing in sex shows -- and they might have to perform sexual acts for dozens of men a night. They may live in what looks from the outside like a private home, but is known locally to be an operating brothel; they may also be transported from city to city as local men tire of them. These girls and women bring in tens of thousands of dollars for their captors each year; for example, the average annual salary in Bulgaria is $2,600, but a prostitute in that area can earn $23,500 for her trafficker [source: Madslien]. In industrialized countries, a woman could earn even more.

As sex slaves, these women are in danger of physical injury from violent johns or pimps, and they're also at risk for a host of sexual health issues, including sexually transmitted diseases (everything from syphilis and gonorrhea to HIV and AIDS), unintended pregnancy, forced abortion and sterilization.

While trafficking victims may be forced into different types of work during the day, they're linked by the psychological damage done to them as well as the ways in which they're forced to perform this work. On the next page, we'll examine how traffickers capture their victims.