Criminology Human Trafficking
Amy Farrell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 May 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0093


Slavery has been illegal in most nations for over a century. Despite the existence of legal prohibitions, advocates and legal officials have raised concern since the 1990s about a modern form of slavery known as “human trafficking.” The modern-day slave has been defined broadly by Kevin Bales as a person who is made to work through force, fraud, or threats of violence, without pay beyond subsistence. US and international laws have further specified definitions of the term “human trafficking.” In 2000 the US Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) defined a new crime of human trafficking and enhanced penalties for existing offenses such as slavery, peonage, and involuntary servitude. Under the TVPA 2000, a severe form of trafficking in persons is one in which “a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or 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” (Section 103, 8a and b). While the term “trafficking” implies the movement of people or goods, the US law does not require transportation of victims; instead, it extends prohibitions against slavery and involuntary servitude through force, fraud, or coercion. In November 2000 the United Nations adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.” Disagreement about the definition of human trafficking, particularly distinctions between trafficking for commercial sex and labor trafficking, are common in the human trafficking scholarship. There is also much disagreement about the nature and extent of human trafficking. Governments and groups lobbying for policies and resources to fight trafficking have estimated thousands and potentially millions of victims, but scholarship on the measurement of human trafficking raises concern about the validity of existing estimates. Scholars also disagree about the degree to which human trafficking is connected to known organized criminal networks.

General Overviews

There are a number of general texts on the phenomenon of human trafficking or modern-day slavery, a majority of which are based on case studies of incidents of human trafficking in different cultural contexts. Bales 1999 and Bales 2005 set the stage for much of the current writing on modern-day slavery and human trafficking in a global context. The definition of slavery promoted by Bales is expansive, covering circumstances ranging from centuries-old bondage labor and chattel slavery practices to more modern forms of sex and labor trafficking that rely on coercion and deception rather than violence or force. Aronowitz 2009 describes the experiences and impacts of various types of human trafficking found globally. Other, more journalistic accounts of human trafficking, such as Batstone 2007 and Skinner 2008, describe conditions where human trafficking has occurred and detail its impact on victims. Gozdziak and Bump 2008 provides a detailed review of the literature on human trafficking broadly, and Winterdyk and Reichel 2010 is a collection of articles published in the European Journal of Criminology on human trafficking in different national contexts. Cameron and Newman 2003 explores the underlying social, structural, and political causes of human trafficking in an effort to inform anti-trafficking efforts.

  • Aronowitz, Alexis. 2009. Human trafficking, human misery: The global trade in human beings. Westport, CT: Praeger.

    This general global analysis of human trafficking presents various types, including the exploitation of child soldiers, organ trafficking, and sex trafficking.

  • Bales, Kevin. 1999. Disposable people: New slavery in the global economy. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    Book addresses the issue of global slavery. The author presents case studies from different countries in which distinct economic activities using slave labor could be identified.

  • Bales, Kevin. 2005. Understanding global slavery: A reader. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    Includes ranges of estimated numbers of slaves for more than 110 countries, and also presents and tests a general theory of what predicts the amount of slavery in a given country.

  • Batstone, David. 2007. Not for sale: The return of the global slave trade—and how we can fight it. New York: HarperOne.

    Journalistic account of modern-day slavery based on narratives of activists, victims, and service providers.

  • Cameron, Sally, and Edward Newman. 2003. Trafficking in humans: Social, cultural, and political dimensions. New York: United Nations Univ. Press.

    This edited volume is the principal result of a project on human trafficking organized by the Peace and Governance Programme of the United Nations University. It explores the structural factors (economic, social, ideological, and geopolitical) and proximate factors (legal and policy aspects, rule of law, inadequate partnership between civil society and state) that contribute to the trafficking of individuals through the use of deception, coercion, and exploitation.

  • Gozdziak, Elzbieta, and Micah Bump. 2008. Data and Research on Human Trafficking: Bibliography of Research-Based Literature. Washington, DC: Georgetown Univ., National Criminal Justice Reference Service.

    A review of the literature on human trafficking; attempts to map out the research that currently exists and identify research gaps.

  • Skinner, Benjamin. 2008. A crime so monstrous: Face-to-face with modern-day slavery. New York: Free Press.

    Journalistic account of conditions of human trafficking with a focus on Haiti, Sudan, Romania, and India.

  • Winterdyk, John, and Philip Reichel, eds. 2010. Special issue: Human trafficking. European Journal of Criminology 7.

    Special issue includes a collection of articles from a diverse set of international contributors about the key social, economic, and political issues related to the trafficking of persons in different national contexts.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.