The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) defines slavery as “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.”

In other words: Slavery occurs when one person completely controls another person, using violence or the threat of violence, to maintain that control, exploits them economically and they cannot walk away.

200 Feet Below, Ashanti Region, Ghana


  • Bonded labor: people become bonded laborers by taking, or being tricked into taking, a loan that they are unable to ever pay off. Some bonded laborers receive basic food and shelter as ‘payment’ for their work, but due to penalties and exorbitant interest rates, no matter how hard they work they are never able to pay off the loan, which can even be passed down to their children. [source: International Labor Organization (ILO)]
  • Forced Labor: people who are illegally recruited by individuals, businesses or governments and forced to work – usually under the threat of violence or other penalties. [source: ILO]
  • Early and forced marriage: predominately effects women and girls who are married without choice, forced into lives of servitude, often accompanied by physical violence, and who have no realistic choice of leaving the marriage. Marriage involving children under 18 years old remains a widely culturally accepted practice in many corners of the globe. Estimates suggest that 11 per cent of women aged between 20 and 24 worldwide were married before reaching the age of 15 [source: UNICEF 2012].
  • Trafficking: involves the transport of any person from one area to another for the purpose of forcing them into slavery conditions, including transporting people between countries and within the borders of a state. [source: Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000]
  • Child Soldiers: the unlawful recruitment or use of children—through force, fraud, or coercion—by armed forces to serve as combatants or for other forms of labor. Some child soldiers are also sexually exploited by armed groups. Perpetrators may be government armed forces, paramilitary organizations, or rebel groups. [source: Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000]
  • Involuntary Domestic Servitude: people forced to work 10-to-16 hours a day or more for little-to-no pay. The employer uses force, fraud and/or coercion, usually the threat of deportation and/or document confiscation, to maintain control over the worker and to cause the worker to believe that he or she has no other choice but to continue with the work. [source: ILO]

Survivor, Maryland, USA: Holly Smith


  • Victims work as: Domestic servants; farm, factory and restaurant laborers; strippers, hostesses, and sex slaves; sales crews, peddlers and beggars; hotel and tourist industry workers.
  • It is reported that 45.8 million slaves are in the world today. [sources: ILO and Kevin Bales]
  • At any one time, there are some 2.5 million people who have been trafficked and are being subjected to sexual or labor exploitation. [source: ILO]
  • Of the 600,000 to 800,000 people trafficked across international borders each year, more than 70% are female and half are children. [source: U.S. State Department, Trafficking in Persons Report, 2007]
  • As many as 14,500-17,500 men, women and children are trafficked into the United States each year. [source: US Department of State, 2005]
  • Human trafficking is estimated to be the third largest international crime industry, ranking behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking. [source: United Nation’s Office on Drugs and Crime.]
  • Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the 21st century– a $32 billion dollar industry. Of that number, $15.5 billion is made in industrialized countries. [source: ILO]
  • The United States is one of the top three destination points for enslaved/trafficked victims, along with Japan and Australia. California, New York, Texas and Nevada are the top destination states in the country.

slaves in nepal


(via the Polaris Project)

  • Unable to leave their job.
  • Does not control their earnings.
  • Owe a large debt and are unable to pay it off.
  • Not in control of their own identification documents (ID or passport).
  • Have their communication restricted or controlled and are frightened to speak in the presence of others.
  • Have injuries, signs of physical abuse, and/or torture.
  • Exhibit behaviors including fear, anxiety, depression, submission, tension, and/or nervousness.
  • Unable to move freely or are being watched or followed.
  • Work excessively long and unusual hours.

Fishing Net, Brong Ahafo Region, Ghana


  • The oppressor threatens to come after them or their family if they attempt to escape.
  • Victims are told that they will be deported or put in jail if they leave because their oppressor has stolen their documents.
  • Deportation for a victim means retribution by the trafficker, as most traffickers have a web of conspirators in the victims’ home countries willing and able to get even.
  • Many victims fear retribution through black magic or physical and sexual abuse, among many other threats and promises made by their captors.
  • In many cases, particularly where slavery is historic and generational as in many villages in India and Africa, people do not realize they are enslaved.


  • Their limited language skills, unfamiliarity with the area and poor physical and mental health, due to their enslavement, can leave them helpless on the streets – vulnerable to falling prey to their traffickers once again.
  • With no money, no documents to prove their citizenship and limited skills, they are unable to earn a living and get themselves out of their situations.
  • Many victims are unaware of their rights or the fact that there are organizations available to assist them to freedom.


If you have reason to suspect that someone is a victim of slavery/human trafficking, DON’T INTERVENE. Doing so can prove harmful to the victim and yourself. Please take the following actions to report a tip:

  • Call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-373-7333
  • Text to BeFree (233733)
  • The NHTRC is a national, toll-free hotline, available to answer calls and texts from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year. Interpreters are available for up to 170 different languages for those callers that require interpretive services. All calls are strictly confidential.


VOICES4FREEDOM is all about creating AWARENESS then ACTION to end modern-day slavery. Everyone has the power to affect trafficking policy on every level, so let your local, state and federal representatives know you expect them to pass legislation that will crack down on traffickers and provide victims with the support services they need to put their lives back together. You can call the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121 to get a listing for your local policy makers and refer to the Library of Congress for bills that are currently under review.

The images on this page are from the ENSLAVED exhibit.