The United States Antitrafficking Efforts: What works, and how can we improve?

By LaQuittis L. – Research Intern


In recent years, human trafficking has obtained increased attention from the nation and all media platforms worldwide. In our society, human trafficking is viewed as modern-day slavery that seems to be rooted in our nations’ history. Although we’ve been able to learn about our nation’s dark past through school education and textbooks, to this date, modern-day slavery has limited research due to its hidden nature. Not only is the problem of human trafficking a national issue, especially the trafficking of immigrants, but it’s also a worldwide issue. This specific crime’s growing concern is in desperate need of more effective antitrafficking methods to finally put it all to an end.

To understand the methods already implemented by our government, we must first understand what exactly human trafficking is. America’s Homeland Security defines it as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Under U.S. federal law, there are two severe forms of trafficking. The first form is sex trafficking, in which profit-oriented sex acts include force, fraud, or intimidating persuasion. The second form is recruiting, harboring, transporting, or obtaining a person for labor or services, through force, fraud, or coercion, to levy that person to involuntary servitude or forced labor. The most recent example of this modern-day slavery is in Libya, where African migrants migrating northward through Libya are captured and sold for profit.

The U.S. Department of State estimates that 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year. However, this does not include the numerous individuals trafficked within our borders (ACLU, 2020). In 2016, The International Labor Organization estimated that 40.3 million people are victims of modern-day slavery, where they are controlled, forced to servitude, and sold as assets. Today, trafficking is estimated to be a 150-billion-dollar business, one of the world’s largest illicit industries (UGLC, 2019). To take control of victims, traffickers often use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paid employment or better living. Another method used by traffickers is pursuing romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations.

Although there is little research, the United States has implemented some efforts to control the situation and decrease this dehumanizing crime. One major flaw that our country is built upon is slavery. The 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was intended to abolish this action that had become too common in society at that time (Roby, Turley, & Cloward, 2008). Even though this Amendment was placed in our constitution to end involuntary servitude and serve as a human right to each individual of this country, why does human trafficking still exist? In 2000, the United States Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and violence protection act, which was the first law to define human trafficking in the United States (Roby, Turley, & Cloward, 2008). This law implemented by congress enables prosecutors to have better tools in convicting violators of trafficking.

Along with the protective legislature, the U.S. has attempted to provide aid to human trafficking victims due to the dehumanized experiences they’ve endured while being held captive. Such programs include residential facilities for trafficked individuals, especially those who are victims of sex human trafficking. However, with specific wording written into our laws, it’s challenging to determine particular individuals as victims when assisting with criminal acts. U.S. law enforcement agencies have also tried to carry out practical training and procedures to help officers identify victims and violators of trafficking. With little information and research provided to authorities, it creates another complex challenge for protecting and preventing this kind of crime. So, what can we do next?

Literature Review

The abuse of individuals for benefit is far from an unknown phenomenon. However, present-day life established real factors, including globalization and extraordinary neediness, worsen conditions that offer ascendance to exploitation. The slave trade from Africa to the Western Hemisphere was legitimate and justified in the international law of its time. The slave trade continued for centuries until President Lincoln issued an executive order in 1862. Then in January of 1865, the executive order was formalized as our 13th Amendment. The Amendment intended to be a new beginning for the U.S.

However, there’s a continuance of decades of integral antiblack suppression, discrimination, and segregation that contradict the Amendment’s effectiveness. As a part of the 13th Amendment, the law states, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States”. This significant standard is the central idea of the United States’ illegal exploitation strategy. The strategy-oriented from the Amendment was passed by congress in 2000 as the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. It energizes a fundamental investigation of illegal exploitation that features society mostly helpless against race-based financial subjection and recognizes deficiency in antitrafficking approaches and practices that neglect to contact them (Kim, 2020).

The purpose of its implementation is to address three broad areas of trafficking which include, the protection and assistance of victims, the effective prosecution of criminals for human trafficking, and America’s efforts in deterring human trafficking in other countries (Roby, Turley, & Cloward, 2008). Before this Act, victims of trafficking were often denied effective ameliorating and left unprotected from traffickers. Victims were even given harsher punishments than traffickers themselves (Candes, 2001). The Act helped expand the definition of involuntary servitude to include labor and commercial sex services imposed through physical violence and threats and nonviolent, psychological coercion (Kim, 2020).

As for victim assistance, an extension of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, only victims who are found to be victims of “severe forms” of trafficking are granted aid. The most important terms used to define severe forms of trafficking are force, fraud, and coercion, which separates human trafficking from another known crime, human smuggling. Benefits given to victims include both assistance and protection and the access of continued presence in the U.S. To receive the two services, individuals must meet the criteria as victims of a severe trafficking form. They also must be willing to help, in ‘each sensible way,’ in the culprit’s apprehension and indictment (Roby, Turley, & Cloward, 2008).

Another form of assistance for trafficking survivors is residential homes. The purpose of residential dwellings is to assist victims and separate them from their predators. When victims enter residential homes, they get access to numerous resources that comprise needed treatments and training to maintain a life outside of trafficking. Through a study, researchers concluded that victims would receive facility treatment that centered around five different categories. The five types consist of social support, counseling, education, job skills, and life skills. The study of the residential facilities also found that they do not have standards for evaluating their programs and do not have a standard definition of success (Ide & Mather, 2018).

Similarly, domestic minors of sex trafficking can get aid through the after-care services provided by the U.S. Residential Treatment Centers. After interviewing staff members of the facility, researchers gained knowledge and descriptions of the services the centers provided. The staff’s responses were able to assist with the expansion of an existing care model. The care model incorporated education re-entry, family reunification, family reconciliation, and emergency substance use services (Twigg, 2017). All of the expansions helped improve the model by providing the knowledge of the specific treatment needed to rehabilitate the trafficked survivors.

Another extension to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act is the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. The use of this report is to rank the efforts of governments to fight against human trafficking each year. The TIP report is a vital asset in monitoring country progression in its efforts to address trafficking. It’s also used to collect data to shape our country’s future strategies through its recommendations—countries that rank low face the possibility of cutting assistance from the U.S. as a consequence. In addition, the President’s Interagency Task Force on Trafficking regulates endeavors of 15 U.S. government departments and agencies to magnify the effects and repercussions of programing (UGLC, 2019).



America’s Global Leadership on Combating Human Trafficking –. (2020, February 11). USGLC.

Austin, R., & Farrell, A. (2017). Human Trafficking and the Media in the United States. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 1–15.

Bauer, R. (2019). What Health Providers Should Know About Human Sex Trafficking. MEDSURG Nursing, 28(6), 347–351.

Candes, M. R. (2001). The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000: Will It Become the Thirteenth Amendment of the Twenty-First Century. University of Miami Inter-American Law Review, 32(3), 571–604.

Ide, M., & Mather, D. M. (2018). The Structure and Practice of Residential Facilities Treating Sex Trafficking Victims. Journal of Human Trafficking5(2), 151–164.

Kim, K. (2020). The Thirteenth Amendment and Human Trafficking: Lessons & Limitations. Georgia State University Law Review, 36(4), 1005–1025.

Roby, J. L., Turley, J., & Cloward, J. G. (2008). U.S. Response to Human Trafficking: Is it enough? Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies6(4), 508–525.

Twigg, N. M. (2017). Comprehensive Care Model for Sex Trafficking Survivors. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 49(3), 259.