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Overview of Human Trafficking and NIJ's Role

Through the funding of rigorous research, NIJ is committed to assisting with the detection and prosecution of human traffickers.
Date Published
February 25, 2019

The United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual 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

Through the funding of rigorous research, NIJ is committed to assisting with the detection and prosecution of human traffickers. NIJ-funded research projects focus on:

  • The nature and extent of human trafficking
  • Detecting and investigating traffickers
  • Prosecuting traffickers
  • Services for trafficking victims.

Human trafficking is a largely hidden crime that has only recently 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. Reliable data are needed, especially about the characteristics of victims and perpetrators, 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.

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

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

[note 1] UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, summary Web page at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/treaties/CTOC/index.html, accessed March 27, 2007.

National Institute of Justice, "Overview of Human Trafficking and NIJ's Role," February 25, 2019, nij.ojp.gov:
Date Created: February 25, 2019