Human Trafficking – What is it?

What is Human Trafficking?
The International definition of human trafficking can be found in the United Nation’s Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children – also known as the Palermo Protocol .

To break down the Palermo Protocol, 3 things must take place for human trafficking to exist: action, means, and purpose. See the graphic below; at least one item in each category must be present in a case for it to be considered human trafficking (by international or US federal law):

Unlike the international or US federal definition of human trafficking, Minnesota’s definition states that any means can be used in human trafficking. This is significant because it recognizes that human trafficking can take place without “force, fraud, or coercion” and removes common defenses traffickers use in court.

Types of Human Trafficking
There are generally 5 major forms of human trafficking, known as the Big Five. The Big Five include:

Labor Trafficking: All work or labor which is exacted from a person under menace of any penalty that they have not offered voluntarily. This is the most common form of human trafficking.

Sex Trafficking: Forced to person sexual acts, take part in, or watch pornography without consent. This is the most profitable form of human trafficking.

Criminal Trafficking: Forcing someone to perform a criminal act for the benefit of another.

Domestic Servitude: Can fall under labor trafficking but has its own has distinctive characteristics. Involves the slavery of a person in a house or family.

Organ Harvesting: Takes or forces a person to give an organ for a reward for themselves or another person.

What is the difference between Sex Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation?
It is important to note that all sex trafficking is a form of sexual exploitation, but not all sexual exploitation is called sex trafficking. However, both are criminal offenses. Minnesota Department of Health differentiates the two concepts as follows:

Sexual Exploitation: When someone exchanges sex for anything of value or a promise of something of value such as money, drugs, food, shelter, rent, or higher status is a gang or group. Another person may or may not be involved in arrange this exchange.

Sex Trafficking: A type of commercial sexual exploitation in which a third person – not the buyer or the victim –facilitates or profits.

Signs that someone may be a victim of Human Trafficking


  • They are fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, nervous or paranoid.
  • They exhibit unusually fearful or anxious behavior when law enforcement is mentioned.
  • They avoid eye contact


  • Lack of health care
  • Appear malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse. (bruises, cuts, abrasions)


  • They have few or no personal possessions.
  • They are not in control of their own money or bank account.
  • They are not allowed to speak for themselves.


  • Unable to tell you where they are staying
  • Lack of knowledge of their whereabouts and may not even know what city they are in.
  • Loss of their sense of time.
  • They have numerous inconsistencies in their story.
SOURCE MN INC. P.O. BOX 8212 MINNEAPOLIS, MN 55408 612.822.5200