• Brooke Ruhl

Understanding Human Trafficking: What is it really?

The International Labour Office defines human trafficking as,

Recruiting, harboring, moving or obtaining humans by force, fraud, coercion or deceit, for the purpose of involuntary servitude, debt bondage, slavery or commercial sex acts

International Labour Office

But what does that really mean?

The definition of human trafficking is broad, and it’s broad for a reason. But this is because it has to be. Human trafficking cannot be limited to just one action, or just one reason. To truly understand human trafficking, we have to understand there are many actions, means, and purposes that can qualify as human trafficking or modern slavery.

The equation of “The Act of ____, by the means of _____, for the purpose of ______” is helpful in understanding just how broad human trafficking is.

The Actions

This part of the equation is the first step to human trafficking. This is generally the answer to the question of "when" or "where." It helps explain the way human trafficking generally starts. Human trafficking professionals consider these to be some of the main actions performed for human trafficking:

  • Recruiting

  • Harboring

  • Transporting

  • Obtaining

The Means

This is the second step of the equation. This is the answer to the question of "how?". The means is the way human traffickers manipulate or utilize their victims. It is also important to consider these can be both physical, as well as emotional. Human trafficking professionals consider these to be some of the main means in human trafficking:

  • Force

  • Fraud

  • Coercion

  • Threat

  • Abduction

  • Deceit

The Purpose

The final step to the equation is the purposes. This answers the question of "why?". This is the part of the equation where the real motive of human trafficking become apparent. Human trafficking professionals consider these to be some of the main purposes of human trafficking. It is important to remember this is not a complete list.

  • Exploitation

  • Prostitution

  • Sexual Exploitation

  • Forced Labor

  • Slavery

  • Organ Removal

The reason human trafficking has such a broad definition is because it is any combination of these things. Using this equation is helpful when reading stories in the news or online and being able to self-categorize them as human trafficking.

Find a news story, recent or past, that you think qualifies as human trafficking and tweet me!

@Brooke_Ruhl and use the hashtag #BRuhly_Trafficked


Brooke Ruhl

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Brooke Ruhl

University of Nevada Reno

2020 by Brooke Ruhl.