In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Human Trafficking

  • Introduction
  • Bibliographies
  • Information on Trafficking in Specific Countries
  • What Is Human Trafficking?
  • Measuring Human Trafficking
  • Criminal Justice Responses
  • The Human Face of Trafficking: Documentary and Fictional Accounts

Sociology Human Trafficking
Lauren A. McCarthy
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 December 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 June 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0169


In 2000, 117 countries signed an optional protocol of the United Nations’ (UN) Convention on Transnational Organized Crime that obligated them to fight trafficking by prosecuting its perpetrators, protecting its victims, and undertaking prevention activities. Since then, the phenomenon has gained widespread attention with advocacy and media campaigns, a flurry of new laws and celebrities taking on the cause of fighting modern-day slavery. The UN protocol defines trafficking as a set of actions (recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt) that if undertaken by one of a set of specified means (threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability, or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person) results in exploitation. The protocol notes that at a minimum, exploitation includes “the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.” If the victim is under eighteen, the means become irrelevant. Exploitation comes in many forms and in many industries—sex, factories, construction, fishing, domestic labor, to name a few—and involves men, women, and children alike. No country is unaffected. The subject of human trafficking is the province of many academic disciplines as it touches on a variety of areas of inquiry including migration, human rights, women’s rights, border security, prostitution, and labor rights. At the same time, it also has a strong history of being rooted in advocacy. In fact, much of the early research on human trafficking was carried out by advocacy organizations and journalists who brought much-needed attention to the issue. Scholars were relative latecomers to the game. However, over the past decade, scholarly research has exploded in volume and increased in quality as both qualitative and quantitative methods have been applied to better understand the phenomenon and its manifestations. The works contained here are a guide to the major issues in human trafficking and are intended to be accessible to students, academics, practitioners, and advocates. When they are particularly well suited for one group, I identify that in the brief annotation about the source.

General Overviews

The works in this section provide both book-length and article-length overviews of human trafficking and serve as good introductions for anyone wanting to become more familiar with its manifestations, operations, and the people involved.

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