Human trafficking is not human smuggling

I was having a conversation with a friend recently and he was disagreeing with some of my statistics about human trafficking. After quite some time, I realized he was thinking of human smuggling — not human trafficking. No wonder the conversation wasn’t progressing.

Here then are the differences in each as defined by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Trafficking vs. Smuggling: What’s the Difference?

Human trafficking and human smuggling are distinct criminal activities, and the terms are not interchangeable. Human trafficking centers on exploitation and is generally defined as:

  • Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or
  • Recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.

Human smuggling centers on transportation and is generally defined as:

  • Importation of people into the United States involving deliberate evasion of immigration laws. This offense includes bringing illegal aliens into the country, as well as the unlawful transportation and harboring of aliens already in the United States.

Human Trafficking Indicators

Human trafficking indicators include:

  • Does the victim possess identification and travel documents? If not, who has control of these documents?
  • Did the victim travel to a destination country for a specific job or purpose and is victim engaged in different employment than expected?
  • Is victim forced to perform sexual acts as part of employment?
  • Is the victim a juvenile engaged in commercial sex?
  • Does the victim owe money to an employer or does the employer hold wages?
  • Did the employer instruct the victim on what to say to law enforcement or immigration officials?
  • Can the victim freely leave employment or the situation?
  • Are there guards at work/harboring site or video cameras to monitor and ensure no one escapes?
  • Does the victim have freedom of movement? Can they freely contact family and friends? Can they socialize or attend religious services?

Stock photo by Charlie Deets on Unsplash

Originally published at Stop Human Trafficking Website.




Writer & photographer in print & online. Proud husband, father & grandfather. Engaged volunteer with Red Cross, human trafficking prevention & social concerns.

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Doug Bardwell

Doug Bardwell

Writer & photographer in print & online. Proud husband, father & grandfather. Engaged volunteer with Red Cross, human trafficking prevention & social concerns.

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