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Overview of Human Trafficking and NIJ's Role

Through the funding of rigorous research and evaluation, NIJ is committed to assisting with the detection, measurement, and prevention of human trafficking and with identifying best practice services for people who are victims of trafficking.
Date Published
October 26, 2022

The United Nations defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transport, 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."[1] Human smuggling, a related but different crime, generally involves the consent of the person(s) being smuggled. These people often pay large sums of money to be smuggled across international borders. Once in the country of their final destination, they are generally left to their own devices. Smuggling becomes trafficking when the element of force or coercion is introduced.

The U.S. Government defines human trafficking 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.
  • The 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.

This modern slave trade is a threat to all nations. A grave human rights abuse, it promotes breakdown of families and communities, fuels organized crime, deprives countries of human capital, undermines public health, creates opportunities for extortion and subversion among government officials, and imposes large economic costs.

NIJ's Role in Human Trafficking Research

NIJ funds rigorous research and evaluation on human trafficking. NIJ is committed to assisting with the detection, measurement, and prevention of human trafficking and with identifying best practice services for people who are victims of trafficking NIJ-funded research projects focus on:

  • Strengthening the science of measuring the prevalence of human trafficking.
  • Preventing trafficking.
  • Improving the identification, investigation, and prosecution of traffickers.
  • Identifying best practices for identifying and providing services to victims.

Human trafficking is a largely hidden crime that has gained the attention of law enforcement, human rights advocates, and policymakers. Research in the field continues to evolve and has focused almost exclusively on the victims; however rigorous evaluations are needed to advance the evidence surrounding effective service provision for victims of human trafficking. Reliable data are needed, especially about the characteristics of victims and those who traffic humans, the mechanism of operations, and assessments of trends. In addition, law enforcement officials must overcome substantial legal, cultural, and organizational barriers to investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases. These barriers, and strategies to overcome them, are still being identified. Multidisciplinary Enhanced Collaborative Model task forces to combat human trafficking are becoming increasingly prevalent, and NIJ continues to focus on rigorous evaluations of these task forces.

Review a list of NIJ-funded research and evaluation projects.

Read articles from NIJ to learn more about select research findings.

Date Published: October 26, 2022