Human Trafficking 101: What is the Difference Between Labor and Sex Trafficking?

What is Human Trafficking?

The US Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act defines trafficking as the “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.” Human trafficking is a 32 billion dollar global criminal industry exploiting all genders, ages, classes, and nationalities. It is the second largest criminal industry in the world, and though many believe it only occurs outside the US, every state has been an origin, transfer, or destination point. While many forms of human exploitation fall under the human trafficking definition, sexual and labor trafficking are the two most commonly known.

What is Sex Trafficking?

According to the US Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, sex trafficking is the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act.” Additionally, children under 18 involved in commercial sex are automatically victims of child sex trafficking under US law.  There are an estimated 4.8 million people sexually exploited worldwide according to the International Labor Organization, and within the US, the National Human Trafficking Hotline recorded 34,700 sex trafficking reports from 2007 to 2017. Since sex trafficking is identifiable along highways and in public areas, it is the most reported form of trafficking.

Sex trafficking hubs include:

  • Hotels & Motels

  • Escort services

  • Strip clubs

  • Massage businesses

  • Truck stops

  • Residential brothels

  • Online advertisements

What is Labor Trafficking?

Labor trafficking is transporting victims by coercion, threat, or fraud to perform labor services. The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported over 7,800 labor trafficking cases within the US since 2007. Labor trafficking is less visible and severely under-reported when compared to sex trafficking, and affects more foreign victims than sex trafficking.  According to the The US Department of Labor forced and child labor produced 148 goods from 75 countries. Motivated by greed and profit, labor trafficking capitalizes on occupations where vulnerable workers such as immigrants, work under threat and inhumane conditions.

Industries involved:

  • Agriculture

  • Horticulture

  • Fishing

  • Construction

  • Mineral

  • Textiles

  • Food service

  • Domestic work

  • Entertainment

  • Health & Beauty

Human trafficking is a local and global problem requiring immediate response, and despite awareness, victim services, and growing database demonstrating the problem, the crisis persists, and it is difficult to know exactly how many fall victim. Traffickers ensnare women and men, young and old, from every background into forced servitude, enduring all manner of psychological, emotional, and physical abuse anywhere from a few days to years. It may seem like a problem too expansive for any individual to solve, but you can do your part to join the fight  against trafficking.

How You Can Help:

  • Always report incidents of suspected trafficking to law enforcement or by contacting the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888

  • Write to your elected officials to support local, state and federal human trafficking legislation.·  

  • Shop consciously by learning where your products are made and the labor practices there.

  • Donate to and support ECPAT-USA and other organizations fighting to end trafficking.

  • Inform yourself by keeping up with ECPAT-USA’s events and latest news

ECPAT-USA Issues Report On State Human Trafficking Laws For The Lodging Industry

All Materials Required by Each State Available on Web  

Brooklyn, NY (May 1, 2019) - - - To help lodging companies facing different laws about human trafficking in different states, ECPAT-USA, with the financial support of the American Hotel and Lodging Association Educational Foundation (AHLEF), today issued a report detailing what each state requires and providing materials to comply with the laws. The report, “Unpacking Human Trafficking A Survey of State Laws Targeting Human Trafficking in the Hospitality Industry”, and all necessary materials are now available on the ECPAT-USA website.

 “We know that the hospitality industry is eager to help fight human trafficking, but the many different state laws makes that complicated. Our goal is to make it as easy as possible for every company in the hospitality industry to comply with the growing number of state laws by giving them one place to find out what is required in each state and to find the materials they need,” said Michelle Guelbart, Director of Private Sector Engagement at ECPAT-USA.

“Human trafficking is a serious, international issue, and our industry, along with others in the travel and tourism industries have an important role to play in combating trafficking networks,” said AHLEF President Rosanna Maietta. “On behalf of the hotel industry and our member companies, AHLEF is committed to working with engaged partners like ECPAT-USA to support and fund research that can bring us closer to help end these heinous crimes.”

In recent years, an increasing number of states have passed laws requiring lodging facilities to display signage calling attention to the problem of human trafficking and alerting the public to the indications of trafficking, the hotline number to report suspicious activity, and services for victims. These laws take various forms and present a sometimes-confusing array of requirements that present a challenge to owners and operators of lodging facilities seeking to satisfy them. 

Similarly, a number of states have enacted legislation requiring lodging facilities to arrange for their employees to be trained to recognize signs of human trafficking and what actions to take in the event that such signs are observed. Other states do not mandate the training but have made it available on a public agency website. Additional states are currently considering similar legislation. Thus, it is safe to predict that the number of states mandating such training will continue to grow.

To help clarify the situation and facilitate legal compliance, ECPAT-USA, with the support of AHLEF, unpacked these laws by preparing a survey of all the applicable state laws currently in effect. The survey will be updated on a semi-annual basis to keep up with the constantly changing laws.

Posters that comply with the various laws, as well as additional resources for hospitality brands, management companies, and properties are available on ECPAT-USA’s website at For states that do not have a human trafficking awareness signage requirement, ECPAT-USA’s Standard Hotel Poster can be utilized.


13 states have laws mandating human trafficking awareness signage in lodging facilities:

California, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, West Virginia

7 states have laws mandating human trafficking awareness signage in lodging facilities that have been cited as a public nuisance:

Alabama, Arkansas, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island

12 states have voluntary human trafficking awareness signage in lodging facilities:

Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin

14 states have penalties for failing to meet the human trafficking awareness signage mandates:

Alabama, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina

4 states have statutes mandating training regarding human trafficking for individuals working in the lodging industry:

California, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey

11 states have voluntary training laws for individuals working in the lodging industry:

Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont

In addition to state laws, there are various agency and municipal regulations, which are beyond the scope of this project. Interested parties should contact their local lodging and hotel association, chamber of commerce or governmental agencies familiar with regulations in local jurisdictions.

# # #


ECPAT-USA is the leading policy organization in the United States seeking to end the commercial, sexual exploitation of children through awareness, advocacy, policy, and legislation. ECPAT-USA is a member of the ECPAT International network, with offices in 95 countries.



AHLEF is the hospitality industry’s philanthropic organization, dedicated to helping people build careers that improve their lives and strengthen the lodging industry. Created in 1953, AHLEF initially focused on providing scholarships to a small group of promising hospitality students. Since that time, the Foundation has taken on a much greater mandate: ensuring a strong and viable future for the entire lodging industry. Underscoring the industry’s stories of opportunity, growth, and success, AHLEF priorities include scholarships, research and career development programs.

Economist Intelligence Unit Highlights ECPAT’s Work In Latest Study On Ending Child Sexual Abuse

Click through to see the full report

Click through to see the full report

A new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit ranks the United States’ response to child sexual abuse and prioritization of ending the crime fifth on a list of 40 countries analyzed. The researchers looked at a country’s environment and stability, legal framework, government commitment and capacity, and engagement of industry, civil society, and media; and specifically referenced prior research and current initiatives from ECPAT International.

One of the areas in which ECPAT’s work was featured prominently is that of the measure of the engagement of the private sector in helping to end child sexual exploitation. The report highlights the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct, ECPAT’s internationally accepted industry-driven corporate social responsibility framework that helps companies in the travel and tourism industry fight trafficking.

Additionally, the Economist report references ECPAT’s “Terminology Guidelines for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse” as a framework for the best language to use when talking about exploitation. Using appropriate terminology when discussing this issue helps to better contextualize the nature of this issue and offers a better understanding of the role we all play in ending sex trafficking.

“Government, law enforcement, health and education systems, civil society and the private sector must acknowledge the responsibility of what is happening within their respective jurisdictions and play a part,” Carol Bellamy, global chair of ECPAT International says in the report.

UN Agency Reports an Increase in the Number of Children Trafficked Worldwide

In January, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, “guardian” of the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol, released its fourth Global Report on Trafficking in Persons. This publication provides an overview of patterns and flows of human trafficking at national, regional and global levels based on information submitted by142 Member States of trafficking cases detected from 2014-2016. The Report collected data from 94% of the world’s population.

The main form of trafficking reported by countries was trafficking for sexual exploitation, 59%. Overall, 30% of those reported trafficked worldwide are children; 23% girls and 7% boys, but the Report states that of those children trafficked for sexual exploitation, 72% are girls and 27% are boys.

Although the Global Report shows an increase in the overall number of persons trafficked worldwide, because trafficking in persons is the second most lucrative illicit business in the world, reliable figures for the total number of those trafficked worldwide are hard to know and, doubtless, greater.  It is important, however, that in the eight years that the Report has been published the capacity of countries to gather data has greatly improved and the Report further shows convictions of traffickers are on the rise, greatly enhancing our efforts to combat trafficking.

Are The Links Between Foster Care And Trafficking A Fixed Reality?

Foster care is sometimes unavoidable. But in cases where there is an option for children to stay with their families, that may be the better choice. Foster care, argues author Christian O’Neill in his new paper, “From Foster Care to Trafficking: An Analysis of Contributing Factors,” can make children more vulnerable to sex traffickers.

“The question it seems everyone wants to ask is: How can we better safeguard children in foster care from villainous traffickers.” he writes.

“Perhaps instead we should be asking, What if we redirected the majority of our efforts away from out-of-home care and toward preventive, family-preservation services? Because the reality is that most parents charged with neglect do not desire to hurt their children; they may be desperate and stressed, but they are rarely malicious. Child traffickers, however, are.”

Previous research (though not enough) shows that involvement in the child welfare system makes children more vulnerable to exploitation. A report published by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2014 estimated that 85% of commercially sexually exploited girls had a history with the child welfare system. In 2013, the FBI reported that 60% of children recovered from commercial sexual exploitation had been a part of out-of- family care in some capacity.

O’Neill, who was a child welfare worker for more than two decades, saw first-hand how the system not only failed at times to secure children from trauma, but also inflicted its own emotional and mental wounds. Being separated from their parents is a heartbreaking process for children. It can be traumatizing for them to be removed from their homes and familiar environment and assigned to live with strangers. Sometimes there is no viable parent. But in other cases a decision to separate children from their families is based on a vague finding of “neglect,” a broad and subjective category that allows race- and class-based biases to influence the decision to remove a child from their home. Then the instability of the foster care system itself, which can lead to multiple placements, means minors can grow up without the security and care they need. The resulting psychological and emotional vulnerabilities are exploited by traffickers.

The process of being frequently uprooted can disrupt kids’ academic and social progress, leaving them with few job skills. As the opioid crisis has put more pressure on families, the child welfare system in some states has been overwhelmed, and foster children have fallen through the cracks.

Often feeling like the system strips them of their agency, many foster children run away from placement. Case workers are sometimes unmotivated to search for runaway foster children due to a lack of resources and the assumption that they don’t want to be found anyway. Children become homeless, a key risk factor for trafficking. And knowing caseworkers aren’t actively searching for these children only emboldens traffickers.

Finally, O’Neill says there is a pernicious financial link between foster care and trafficking. The financial support that foster parents receive from the government to care for children can leave foster children feeling objectified and monetized. Being “monetized” by a trafficker may feel not much different. One survivor of sexual exploitation, Withelma “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, who is quoted in O’Neill’s paper, testified that youth’s experience in the foster care system normalizes “being used as an object of financial gain by people who are supposed to care for us…

“Therefore,” she said, “when youth are approached by traffickers...they don’t see much difference between their purpose of bringing finances into their foster home and bringing money to traffickers.”

O’Neill urges rethinking child welfare policies to increase and reallocate resources from out-of-home care to family-preservation services. Such a shift, he believes, could help strengthen families and build children’s defenses against trafficking. And see his insightful recommendations for the many individuals who have roles within the child welfare institution, including caseworkers, clinicians, communities and policy makers.

Is There Really No Vacancy for Child Sex Traffickers?

Is There Really No Vacancy for Child Sex Traffickers?

Why it’s important to study how many hotels have anti-trafficking training

By Michelle Guelbart, MSW, and Julia Wejchert


When ECPAT-USA started working with hotels to combat child sex trafficking 13 years ago, very few people understood the urgency of our work. We knew that victims are often isolated from their friends, family, and community members, and we also knew that the hospitality industry is one of few industries in a unique position to recognize and identify victims. Unfortunately, our outreach to hotels was often met with shock and denial. We heard hotel after hotel respond that this may be happening but “not in my hotel.”

As we made progress with the general public through awareness campaigns and outreach, we also worked with hotel brands to implement policies and training to begin alerting hospitality associates of their unique role in stopping human trafficking. Slowly things began to change and we reached a turning point. Corporate policies against human trafficking and child exploitation are touted as industry standard. Training (even mandated) is now recognized as best practice. Many hotels train their associates to recognize the indicators of child sex trafficking and respond appropriately. But until now, no one knew exactly how many hotels had training.

The report we released today, No Vacancy for Child Sex Traffickers, provides exactly that information. It is the first of its kind, providing data from hotel properties across the United States about their training. Specifically, it shows that half of all hotels in the United States have had training for their associates. It also reports that over 80% of hotel associates who had training had increased awareness of child sex trafficking, and over 90% of managers with training who said they had increased knowledge in the past 3 years said the increase was a result of their training.

Another question this report answers is “where is anti-trafficking training coming from?” The results show that at least 35% of hotels with training were using programming  developed by ECPAT-USA. 

Additionally, most training, whether it was developed by ECPAT-USA or someone else, was distributed by hotel brands. This means that individual hotel properties usually use training they get from their parent companies like Hilton, Hyatt, or Wyndham. Therefore, when a hotel brand decides to take on an issue, it can be life changing and far reaching. And in the case of human trafficking awareness training, it can be life saving.

This training is so important because hotel rooms are used by pimps for child sex trafficking. An issue that was previously confined to the streets has now, with the use of online classified ads, also moved to the Internet and behind the closed doors of hotels rooms. Pimps rent rooms in hotels, then go online to create advertisements in adult sexual services pages, and finally sell victims in hotels or have victims meet purchasers at nearby hotels.

While the hospitality industry is not responsible for the exploitation, it does have an important role to play in helping to stop it. By training their associates to recognize indicators and providing a clear, safe response procedure hotel staff can follow if they do see something suspicious, hotels can help to protect children from exploitation.

While the report shows exciting progress in this area, there is still work to be done.

That half of U.S. hotels report using training is a significant achievement, but the other half of hotels still need to be reached. Additionally, the findings in our report suggest that some properties who have access to trainings through ECPAT-USA partnerships are not taking full advantage of training opportunities. While many are utilizing ECPAT-USA training, we must continue to work to ensure that all hotel associates have access to such important programming. 

In the next few weeks we will be publishing a series of blog posts about what travelers, the hotel industry, and governments can do to continue the fight against child sex trafficking. Together we can ensure that no child is bought or sold.

ECPAT-USA Releases “No Vacancy for Child Sex Traffickers Impact Report”

Brooklyn, NY (Sept. 26, 2017) – ECPAT-USA released a report today: “No Vacancy for Child Sex Traffickers Impact Report: The Efficacy of ECPAT-USA’s Work to Prevent and Disrupt the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Hotels.” The report details the results of ECPAT-USA’s work with the travel and tourism industry to protect children from sex trafficking.

The first of it’s kind, the report shows what percentage of hotels in the United States have anti-trafficking training for their associates. Based on the findings of an evaluation study conducted by the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, the report shows that half of all hotels in the U.S. have training about how to prevent and disrupt child sex trafficking and at least 35% of those have ECPAT-USA training, but there is still more work to be done.

“We are so proud of the progress that has been made with the hospitality industry but progress must continue,” said Michelle Guelbart, director of private sector engagement for ECPAT-USA and co-author of the report. “Hotels must mandate training across the board and ensure that this issue is institutionalized through new hire training.”

ECPAT-USA is a non-profit organization whose mission is to create a world where no child is bought, sold or used for sex. The International Labor Organization estimates that nearly 21 million people around the world are trapped in modern day slavery. Youth are strategically targeted and manipulated by pimps who use hotel rooms as venues to abuse children, believing that systems are not in place to protect the victims. With the use of online classified ads, child trafficking is both on the streets and behind the closed doors of local hotel rooms.

ECPAT-USA released the report, which was co-authored by ECPAT-USA’s private sector engagement associate, Julia Wejchert, at a panel event at the Salvation Army International Social Justice Commission. Carol Smolenski, ECPAT-USA’s executive director moderated the panel. Speakers included Michelle Guelbart, MSW, director of private sector engagement at ECPAT-USA and one of the report’s authors, Craig Kalkut, VP, government affairs at American Hotel and Lodging Association, Katrina Owens, survivor and founder of MPower Mentoring, and Faith Taylor, SVP, global corporate social responsibility at Wyndham Worldwide. The panel was co-sponsored by the NGO Committee to Stop Trafficking in Persons, The Salvation Army, and the UN Presbyterian Office.

To read the report, visit