What is human trafficking?
In the simplest terms, human trafficking is the movement of a person from one place to another into conditions of exploitation, using deception, coercion, the abuse of power or the abuse of someone’s vulnerability. It is entirely possible to have been a victim of trafficking even if your consent has been given to being moved.
There are therefore three constituent elements: movement, control and exploitation.
The UN protocol on trafficking in persons, commonly referred to as the Palermo Protocol, defines human trafficking as:
“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs“
It is accepted that few children will be able to give consent to being moved, therefore the coercion or deception elements do not have to be present for persons under the age of 18.
Is human trafficking the same as people smuggling?
No. Human trafficking victims are tricked, forced, threatened or otherwise coerced into moving to a situation where they are then exploited for labour, sexual acts, domestic services, identity abuse, removal of organs or criminal acts. This movement can be between countries or within their own country.
People smuggling is a business transaction between a person wishing to enter a country illegally and a facilitator. Once the service has been provided the transaction is complete. People smuggling always involves illegal border crossing and entry to another country.
The principal difference between the two is the element of exploitation.
Is physical violence involved in all human trafficking cases?
No. Trafficking can involve deception, threats against the person or their family, psychological pressure, debt bondage, and so on. This is not an exhaustive list and traffickers will use any combination of means to control the victim for exploitation.
Often the victims are chosen because of a particular vulnerability. For example traffickers may use young people in their group, possibly existing victims themselves, to identify and introduce girls whose home circumstances could make them more susceptible to grooming. through affection, gifts and the creation of emotional dependency.
Any sexual or criminal activity involving the victim may also be used as leverage to facilitate further, and greater, exploitation, perhaps involving other people. These further acts themselves become leverage, and so on until victims are totally under the control of the traffickers.
What defines a victim of human trafficking?
The three basic elements of human trafficking are movement, control and exploitation.
Any person who has been threatened, deceived or otherwise coerced in order to control them, and moved to a situation of exploitation is potentially a victim of human trafficking.
It is not necessary for a person under the age of 18 to be threatened, deceived or otherwise coerced to constitute trafficking, as it is deemed they cannot consent to be exploited. With persons under the age of 18, only movement and exploitation need be present to constitute trafficking.
Some victims are so conditioned by their traffickers that they believe themselves to be willing participants.
The International Labour Organisation document Operational Indicators of THB (7.21MB PDF) provides a comprehensive list detailing the potential indicators of trafficking for adults and children in both sexual and labour exploitation. Any potential victim of human trafficking should be referred via a first responder to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). The NRM will make the decision whether or not the person is a victim of trafficking. For more information see the NRM pages.
I believe I may be a victim of trafficking, how can I be sure?
This is a complex question. If you can answer yes to either of the following, you may be a potential victim of trafficking
Have you been subject to movement by, or on behalf of, persons who have then exploited you?
Amongst other things exploitation could consist of –
These are examples of exploitation, not an exhaustive list. Now consider:
Are you under the control of the persons who exploit you?
This may take the form of –
You should also compare your situation to the answer given above to the question ‘What is Human Trafficking?’
If you believe you are the victim of human trafficking, report this to your local police or get someone to do it for you. If you believe you are in danger or the situation is urgent call 999.
I'm a police officer dealing with a potential trafficking victim for the first time. Where can I get advice?
The UKHTC provides operational advice to police and law enforcement personnel 24 hours a day, 365 days a year via our Tactical Advisor team.
This facility is used by first timers and experienced officers alike as the experts team can provide a fresh perspective on the case and advice on resource management.
The team can also help to identify possible trafficking offences in other cases where it is suspected that victims may be exploited.
Are human trafficking victims’ always foreign immigrants?
Victims of human trafficking can be foreign immigrants coming into or out of the UK. They can also be UK nationals trafficked within the UK or trafficked out of the country for exploitation abroad.
The common misconception that only foreigners are trafficked, and only into the UK, means it’s likely that the true scale has either gone unreported or that the trafficking element of an exploitation crime has not always been recorded.
Currently around half of all referred victims of trafficking in the UK who have been given conclusive decisions are either UK nationals or have a legal right to be in the UK. This is significant because these victims have nothing to gain from being referred to the NRM in terms of rights to remain in the UK.
Do victims generally come from low-income or poor family backgrounds?
No. Traffickers will use any vulnerability, or even create vulnerabilities, to control their victims. Sex trafficking victims can come from stable, loving, affluent backgrounds and be trafficked by people they regard as their ‘boyfriends’. Victims’ cultural values can be exploited and used to control them.
How can I protect against the risk of becoming a victim of human trafficking?
Any risk can be reduced by taking steps to ensure your own safety. Here are just a few pointers:
Why don’t all victims of human trafficking self-identity as victims of crime?
The psychology is very complex and it would be inappropriate to generalise here. Some are persuaded to accept that their situation is culturally normal. Some believe, or have been conditioned to believe, that they are acting of their own free will. Some consider the situation they find themselves in to be sufficiently better than the one they were in previously that they accept the exploitation. Many will have been conditioned to see their traffickers as friends, lovers or benefactors. Some will struggle to see their exploitation as a crime, and will consider either that they are in hard times or that they are in the same situation as others.
I believe that I have seen or know of people who are being trafficked / exploited. What should I do?
Even if you are not completely sure whether what you have observed is trafficking, contact your local police force immediately. If you believe someone may be in immediate danger call 999. You can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
Can I volunteer to work for the UKHTC or as an intern?
The UKHTC is part of a law enforcement organisation working with very sensitive personal and operational information. The security vetting requirements for non law enforcement personnel prohibit any voluntary or intern work experience.
It may be possible to arrange such work with some of the specialist non governmental partner organisations.
Can I request any further information for my academic piece of research / further study?
No. Due to the sheer volume of official queries the UKHTC receives we cannot currently respond to requests from individuals or organisations. We endeavour to make available all the information we can, either through this website or as official documents.
Can I request further analysis of the National Referral Mechanism figures?
No. The purpose of the National Referral Mechanism is to ensure victims of trafficking receive the support they need. The figures are structured to provide the Government and its agencies with data relevant to providing those individuals with that support. The UKHTC cannot produce customised additional analysis of the figures.
What is the NRM and its purpose?
Information about the NRM is available on our NRM pages.
Which organisations can refer potential victims of human trafficking to the NRM?
The following organisations are recognised as First Responders:
If you encounter a potential victim of trafficking and are not a recognised First Responder, you should refer the individual to one of the organisations detailed above.