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Human trafficking is a global, complex, and heartbreaking issue

For approximately 50 million people, it’s not some obscure, disconnected concept that’s hard to comprehend; it’s a reality they’re forced to live in daily. If we want to effectively contribute to the eradication of modern slavery, we must first understand what causes human trafficking and the effects of human trafficking on those involved. Only then can we start making strategic moves to stop this crime and truly help those in need.

What causes human trafficking?

The root cause of human trafficking is traffickers1

Traffickers prey on others’ weaknesses, unfortunate circumstances, unfamiliarity, and inexperience. Traffickers are trained to identify vulnerability and use expert manipulation tactics to persuade and control their victims. They identify a void and offer to fill it.

Vulnerability creates opportunity for traffickers

Individuals living in difficult conditions can become desperate, and that desperation makes them vulnerable. While the following categories do not cause human trafficking, they do create a state of vulnerability and ideal opportunities for traffickers to strike.

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Conditions That Create Vulnerability



When someone living in poverty, such as a widow or single mother who struggles to provide for her children, is desperate to meet a basic need, she is in a vulnerable position. A trafficker, familiar with this scenario, might offer her a job that enables her to feed her children. If this appears to be her only option, she may accept and be willing to do whatever the trafficker asks of her.


Traffickers target unemployed individuals and often use deception to persuade them to leave home and take a job in another city or country. The position may initially sound promising, but once the individual arrives at the destination, it is often much different than what was described. To keep them from leaving, traffickers may confiscate their victims’ passports or IDs. They might also pay for transportation, shelter, clothing, or food so their victims are indebted to them and feel obligated to work.


War, political instability, and natural disasters can displace individuals or entire families. When people are forced to flee their homes and communities, they can experience financial hardship, homelessness, and culture shock. Children who have lost their parents, for example, are easy targets for traffickers. Without a safe place to call home or a guardian to provide for and protect them, these children become vulnerable to abuse, unfair treatment, and trafficking.

Lack of Knowledge or Experience

Inexperience may lead individuals down a path that ends in exploitation. A teenager who is approached by a trafficker may accept an attractive job offer, seeing it as a great opportunity at such a young age. An immigrant who arrives in a foreign country may not understand his or her rights, may be unfamiliar with the nation’s laws, or may not know the national language. A trafficker will quickly take advantage of these types of situations.

Broken Families

Individuals who are cast out of their homes, abandoned, or placed into the child welfare system are highly vulnerable to human trafficking. Runaways, youth experiencing homelessness, and those who live in isolation are often targeted. When someone feels alone or unloved or has been abused in the past, they may be willing to take great risks. They may feel as though they have little to lose or may even find comfort living with their trafficker. Some traffickers offer love and acceptance to lure individuals to work for them.

Cultural Practices

In some societies, it’s widely accepted to devalue and abuse women and children. This outlook is ingrained into the minds of men and women in certain cultures, which creates a huge opportunity for traffickers. A parent may be willing to sell a daughter and send her into a world of exploitation. Some girls and women may leave home willingly if they’ve been raised to believe they are unequal to men or have few opportunities for work and advancement in their own communities. In traditional cultures where arranged marriages are common, girls are sometimes forced into child marriage, which can also be identified as a form of human trafficking.

What are the effects of human trafficking?

Human trafficking can have physical, emotional, and psychological effects on anyone involved. It has the power to impact someone’s life forever. Here are some common ways human trafficking affects victims and perpetrators. As you read through this section, keep in mind that many traffickers also experience trauma because of what they see and do to others, and many traffickers have been victimized themselves at some point in their lives.

Effects of human trafficking on the victims


Mental Trauma

The U.S. Department of State explains, “Because traffickers dehumanize and objectify their victims, victims’ innate sense of power, visibility, and dignity often become obscured.”

Victims of human trafficking can experience devastating psychological effects during and after their trafficking experience. Many survivors may end up experiencing post-traumatic stress, difficulty in relationships, depression, memory loss, anxiety, fear, guilt, shame, and other severe forms of mental trauma.


Physical Trauma

Many victims also experience physical injuries. Those who have been sexually exploited are often abused by their traffickers and customers. They may be raped, beaten, and subjected to abuse over a long period of time. There is also a higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, infections, diabetes, cancer, and other illnesses. A lack of proper medical care allows these conditions to spread and worsen—often affecting an individual’s health permanently.

Victims of forced labor may work in dangerous conditions for long hours doing repetitive tasks. They may also be exposed to dangerous contaminants or work with heavy equipment. As a result, many are subjected to serious infections, respiratory problems, injuries, impairments, and exhaustion.3



Individuals who are being trafficked can quickly become isolated from friends, family, and other social circles. This may be due to their personal feelings of guilt and shame or because they’ve relocated and now live far away from their community. Either way, victims can become isolated, withdrawn, and lose contact with most people.

Some individuals who return home or escape a trafficking situation may even be excluded from social groups due to a stigma they now face; they may be shunned by their family and friends and feel unloved and unwanted.4 Unfortunately, this isolation can make them vulnerable to being trafficked again or lead them to return to an abusive lifestyle.


Lack of Independent Living Skills

Many victims who escape a trafficking situation lack advanced education and the resources needed to live independently. They may not understand laws in the country where they now reside or may not speak the language. They may have been trafficked at a young age and were unable to attend school or go to college. After being confined to the same job for a long period of time and not being allowed to learn new skills, victims can become dependent. When the time comes, they may have a hard time living on their own.

Effects of human trafficking on the trafficker(s)



Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, second in size only to drug trafficking.2 Traffickers generate $150 billion per year, according to the International Labor Organization. $99 billion of that is generated through sex trafficking alone, while the other $51 billion is generated through labor trafficking. The more traffickers participate in the exploitation of others, the more money they make for themselves.

Cheap Labor

Traffickers use deception to attract employees to work for them. They may promise a safe working environment and fair pay. In reality, employees are often forced to work long, hard hours for little or no pay. By using threats or violence, employers can convince their employees to continue working for them and to keep quiet.

Escape from Victimization

Once victims age out of their current positions, they may be offered a job as a trafficker. Some accept the new position to escape their own victimization. They then begin exploiting others.

Human trafficking continues to grow in staggering numbers around the world. The effects of this injustice are far reaching, impacting all individuals involved, their communities, and generations that follow. While the causes and effects are varied and multifaceted, sustainable change can happen if survivors are rescued and their perpetrators are arrested. The more dangerous human trafficking becomes for traffickers, the less likely they will continue exploiting others.

What you can do to help

Here at The Exodus Road, we believe we all have a role to play in creating a free world. There are numerous ways YOU can help fight human trafficking in your own community.

Donate to The Exodus Road today.

No action is too small. Never underestimate the difference you can make in someone’s life through one small act of kindness.

This article was originally published in November of 2018.