FAQs

- What is human trafficking?

The most common international definition comes from a Palermo Protocol adopted by the United Nations in 2000, which splits trafficking into 3 required elements: the act, the means, and the purpose. (1) The act (what’s done) is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, or harboring or receipt of persons. (2) The means (how it’s done) involves threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or position of vulnerability, or giving or receiving of payments/benefits. (3) The purpose (why it’s done) is rooted in economics and shows up as prostitution, sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery, servitude, and removal of organs.

- Is it only trafficking if victims are transported across national borders?

No. When someone is moved from place to place or town to town within a country as a result of transport, transfer, recruitment, harboring or receipt of persons they are also trafficked. This kind of trafficking within a country is called ‘internal trafficking’. When a person has moved or been moved across a national border it is ‘external trafficking’.

- What if people travel willingly to the place where they are exploited?

Whenever someone responds to a job opportunity offering X wages or Y accommodation, etc., and s/he travels to the place willingly, s/he has been “recruited” for work by the person who posted the ad. Either the recruitment or the transport is enough to satisfy the ‘act’ element in the definition of trafficking. When s/he arrives for the job, s/he’s told s/he has to pay off the cost of the accommodation but with deductions for food and transport to and from work, and therefore receives unreasonably low wages. S/he will never have enough money to pay off the accommodation. Now s/he’s trapped in a cycle of debt. S/he was promised certain work and/or living conditions but the promise has turned out to be false; s/he was “deceived“ into traveling to a particular place, and that deception is the ‘means’ element of the definition. The fact that s/he works for no real pay because of unreasonable deductions means s/he is being exploited.

- What if people aren’t held captive physically, is it still trafficking?

Yes, it can be. Traffickers more often use psychological manipulation, such as threats against the victim’s family, debt bondage, the use of shame as a weapon, threats of violence, or the long-term “grooming” of a victim to believe the trafficker is their lover or friend.

- Is there really much trafficking in the US (vs. a “developing world” problem)?

Yes, it’s happening here and around the world. It’s the fastest growing criminal industry and the third largest overall criminal enterprise in the world. The US pays higher prices for goods and services than “developing nations”, which means we in the US are a major driver of demand for services supplied by trafficked persons—both here and abroad.

- Which trafficking statistics are the most accurate?

We’ll never know the exact number of victims because trafficking is a hidden crime. The most reliable global estimate comes from the International Labour Organization (ILO), a UN agency. ILO’s current estimate is 40.3 million trafficked people comprising 24.9 million people in forced labor, sexual exploitation or domestic servitude, plus another 15.4 million in forced marriages.

- What is Unseen’s strategy to combat human trafficking?

Unseen is a capacity-building nonprofit that accelerates a portfolio of anti-trafficking and root cause organizations that have a history of success and are primed for growth. We fill an essential gap in the anti-trafficking community. Many anti-trafficking organizations do a great job performing specialized work, but too few know about it. They're unseen—which limits their ability to grow and assist more people. Unseen functions as a strategic marketing partner, collaborating with these organizations to create growth and messaging strategies, and build annual roadmaps to help them achieve their goals. We deliver 100+ marketing communication products annually—from strategy, writing, design, to final execution. Anti-trafficking partners use the tools we create—websites, videos, slide decks, print assets—to expand their tribe of supporters and multiply their work.

- Does Unseen or its partners work with governments and/or law enforcement?

Yes, Unseen’s partners work closely with governments and law enforcement on investigations, raids, and prosecutions.

- Why does the fight against human trafficking need the involvement of nonprofits?

The kind of fear and manipulation experienced by many trafficking victims, and those who are vulnerable to trafficking, means they would never consider reporting their situation directly to law enforcement. This creates a need for trusted third parties to identify vulnerable people, manage prevention programs, raise public awareness, provide holistic aftercare, and train frontline professionals who can build bridges among vulnerable people, service providers, and law enforcement.

- How is Unseen funded?

Unseen is funded primarily by private individuals and a few organizations.

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