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What Is the Difference Between Human Trafficking and Sex Trafficking?

Is there a difference between sex trafficking and human trafficking? This is certainly a valid question, but one that warrants a nuanced reply, as it doesn’t come down to a simple “yes” or “no.” However, this doesn’t mean it has to be complicated either. At a broad level, sex trafficking is a form of human trafficking, but human trafficking isn’t limited to sex trafficking.

However, it is true that sex trafficking victims occupy the largest percentage of the human trafficking industry. For instance, in 2020, the National Human Trafficking Hotline identified 7,648 incidents involving sex trafficking. In these situations, there were 10,836 victims. To put this in perspective, these numbers indicate that sex trafficking makes up 72 percent of the human trafficking industry.

This is significant, but it reiterates that, while these types of trafficking are lumped into the same category (and in many ways for understandable reasoning) human trafficking and sex trafficking are not the same, although they share some similarities. Another widespread form of human trafficking, for instance, is labor trafficking, which occupied 10 percent of the industry, according to that same report. 

But understanding that human trafficking and sex trafficking are related, while also being aware that they have differences, furthers the importance of understanding the world of human trafficking as a whole. Only after people understand there are different types of human trafficking and learn of its truly massive scope of operation, can they come to terms with the urgency of the problem at hand.

Understanding Human Trafficking vs. Sex Trafficking

It is obvious that all forms of human trafficking, whether centered around labor or sex or something else, are still forms of modern slavery that force victims to do things outside of their will and consent. And to further the similarities among all types of human trafficking, the vulnerabilities of potential victims are often common and shared, so much so that they have become warning signs for potential abuse. 

Such factors as substance abuse, poverty, or unstable housing are all details that a human trafficker would try to exploit. But the reasons that one trafficker might be pursuing their prey are likely very different from another trafficker’s motives. In fact, even if a human trafficker is operating within sex trafficking, there are still many different types of scenarios that fit this description. 

Referring back to the 2020 National Human Trafficking Hotline report, 1,116 of the incidents of sex trafficking were linked to escort services, while 939 were related to pornography. Another 626 were connected to illicit massage, health, and beauty services. Additionally, there are other types of incidents that fall within sex trafficking, such as residential-based commercial sex or even personal sexual servitude. 

Neon "Spa Massage" sign

So if these are all examples of sex trafficking, what is the definition of sex trafficking? While broad, the definition is also right to the point: the action or practice of illegally transporting people from one place to another for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

And so it can start to become clear that if there are this many types of sex trafficking, then there must be this many types of labor trafficking as well. And that is precisely the point. And just because there are more sex trafficking victims and incidents than labor trafficking, they are both parts of the larger umbrella of human trafficking.

Join the Fight Against Human Trafficking

Sex trafficking incidents top the list when it comes to types of human trafficking, but all forms of human trafficking need to be put to an end. Being aware of how human traffickers operate, and better understanding the common warning signs of potential victims goes a long way. Arming the public with this awareness is a crucial component of the fight. 

It is also important to donate if and when you can. Organizations like DeliverFund get information into the hands of authorities and help put human traffickers to justice. Donate today, and join the fight against human trafficking!

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Our supporters know that every step, big or small, can make a difference in the fight against human trafficking.

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