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Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking

HSI plays an integral role in combating human trafficking by working with its law enforcement partners to deter, disrupt, and dismantle the criminal networks engaged in trafficking activities.

Every year, human traffickers prey on millions of victims around the world — regardless of age, race, gender or nationality. Human traffickers will prey on anyone, but those often at the greatest risk are people who:

  • Are hoping for a better life.
  • Lack of employment opportunities.
  • Have unstable home lives.
  • Have a history of sexual or physical abuse.

HSI plays an integral role in combating human trafficking by working with its law enforcement partners to deter, disrupt and dismantle the criminal networks that engage in it. Special agents use their expertise and rely on HSI’s authorities to seize assets and eliminate profit incentives, work with nongovernmental organizations to protect and assist victims, and bring traffickers to justice.

Understanding Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is a global crime that generally takes two forms:

  1. Sex trafficking
  2. Forced labor

Traffickers use various methods to control and exploit their victims, including physical violence, psychological manipulation, threats and deception. They often lure victims with false promises of employment, education or a better life.

A wide range of criminals — including individuals, family operations, small businesses and criminal networks can be human traffickers. Those working within these criminal organizations traffic people in conjunction with other criminal activities, such as money laundering and fraud.

Human Trafficking’s Impact

Human trafficking’s consequences are far-reaching and include the following:

  • Individual trauma. Trafficked victims may endure physical violence, sexual abuse, forced labor and deprivation of basic needs, so they often experience severe physical, psychological and emotional trauma resulting from their exploitation. The trauma can have long-lasting effects on their mental health, self-esteem and ability to trust others. In fact, the trauma can be so severe that many don’t identify themselves as victims or ask for help.
  • Social stigma. Trafficked victims often face stigma, discrimination and social rejection due to misconceptions about their experiences. This can further isolate them from support networks and prevent them from getting the help and services they need.
  • Community impact. Human trafficking perpetuates cycles of exploitation, poverty and vulnerability. It drives organized crime and illicit economies, destabilizing communities and undermining laws.

HSI's Response to Human Trafficking

HSI is a leader in the global fight against human trafficking, and its mission is twofold:

  1. Proactively identify, disrupt and dismantle human trafficking organizations and minimize the risks they pose to national security and public safety.
  2. Employ a victim-centered approach, placing equal value on identifying, recovering and stabilizing victims while investigating and helping prosecute traffickers.

HSI’s strategy to counter human trafficking is modeled after the four Ps of the National Action Plan and the DHS Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking: Prevention, protection, prosecution and partnerships.

  1. Prevention. Reduce the threat by providing information and resources to specific vulnerable populations, schools and community groups.
  2. Protection. Disrupt illicit activity by identifying and helping victims toward recovery.
  3. Prosecution. Leverage HSI’s unique authorities to investigate, enforce the laws, and refer cases for prosecution.
  4. Partnership. Partner with domestic and international law enforcement agencies.

HSI leads the DHS Center for Countering Human Trafficking (CCHT) to advance counter human trafficking law enforcement operations, protect victims and enhance prevention efforts. The CCHT integrates the efforts of every component within DHS involved in combating human trafficking, including criminal investigations, victim assistance, identifying and reporting human trafficking, external outreach, intelligence and training.

HSI’s Victim Assistance Program provides a critical resource to HSI investigations and criminal prosecutions. The Victim Assistance Program helps preserve victims’ and survivors’ rights, helps connect them with the services they’re legally entitled to receive, and provides them with the support they need to fully participate in the criminal justice process.

HSI participates in more than 120 counter-human trafficking task forces around the country, as well as with foreign partners. We have a network of over 90 international offices that work with foreign governments to coordinate investigations, enforcement actions and prosecutions.

How We Can Help Each Other

The fight against human trafficking is a worldwide effort. You can join the fight by familiarizing yourself with indicators of human trafficking, raising awareness and educating your community or industry about the issue — and report suspected trafficking at any time.

If you suspect someone is a trafficking victim, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations or houses of worship?
  • Has the child stopped attending school?
  • Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
  • Is a child or teen engaged in commercial sex acts?
  • Is the person disoriented, confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
  • Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
  • Is the person fearful, timid or submissive?
  • Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep or medical care?
  • Does the person often defer to someone they’re always with, or are they always with someone who seems control what they do, where they go or who they talk to?
  • Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
  • Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?
  • Does the person lack personal possessions and appear to have an unstable living situation?
  • Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?

Although these indicators may signal human trafficking, every case looks different. If you suspect someone may be a human trafficking victim, call the HSI Tip Line at 877-4-HSI-TIP.

Last Updated: 04/22/2024
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