Force, Fraud, and Coercion

Force, Fraud, and Coercion. These are the three catchwords that differentiate human trafficking from other forms of manipulation and exploitation. They are the ways that humans get into the trade and the way that they are kept in. I think that to really understand human trafficking, one needs to have a true understanding of these three terms.

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The first way that people are trafficked is through the use of force. This may be the primary vision that people have when they think of human trafficking. Force could include anything from kidnapping to starvation to forced confinement to drug dependence to abuse. A person who is forced into sex trafficking, for instance, may be picked up off the street, shoved into a van, and driven to a foreign place where he or she would be made submissive through rape, physical and verbal abuse.  Around the world, people are quite literally stuffed into trucks, the hulls of ships, even packaged up and sent across borders by traffickers.


Many traffickers use drug dependence to manipulate their victims. Women in brothels are provided with drugs and form addictions to them. Even if they are able to escape or are rescued by aid workers, they will return to their pimps because their withdrawals from the drugs are too painful to bear.

Another way that traffickers keep their victims in check is by forced confinement, keeping them under lock and key with guards patrolling their very move. They control living conditions of their slaves. If there is any chance of revolution or backlash, a pimp can simply cut off water or electricity, essentially forcing those who have been trafficked to follow their rules. They will only let them out under close supervision, and some may even collect rent! This throws victims into an endless cycle of debt.

Pimps may keep girls under their control through force, abusing them physically, sexually, emotionally, and verbally. Read more about this in my description of Guerrilla Pimping.

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The second form that traffickers use to lure people in and keep people in is fraud. This form is quite multifaceted and can come in many disguises. One of the most common way is false promises, whether of employment, marriage, a better life for one’s children, education, etc. In the documentary, The Price of Sex, many of the women enticed into the sex trade were done so through fraudulent promises (usually of better jobs).

(for more on these women’s stories: read Broken People)

Many people are more likely to trust one of their own kind, whether that be religion, ethnicity, or even gender, and are most vulnerable to fraud coming from these people. A newcomer to the US from Cambodia may be offered assistance by a fellow Cambodian in finding work. She may put her trust into this person’s hands, unsuspecting the “helper”s true purpose of handing her over to a trafficker for monetary compensation. Without language, cultural, or legal knowledge of a place, a person becomes increasingly susceptible to fraud.

Fraud also includes false promises of immigration status. A person will pretend to sponsor another’s immigration, paying for legal documentation, only to demand repayment once the person has crossed borders. This hurtles a person into debt bondage, another rampant form of fraud. In the case of debt bondage, a person is either forced to or coerced into taking out a loan, only to have labor demanded for repayment. Because the debt just keeps increasing, this form can keep generations upon generations enslaved.

This form is especially prevalent in Pakistan, where 1/100th of the population is enslaved by debt bondage. Hear the story of one family:



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And the final form is coercion. A pimp or trafficker may coerce a victim by threatening him or her. The pimp may threaten to harm them or their family. They may threaten to tell their family or community, something which to a person from a culture based around honor and aversion from shame, is a detrimental concept. They may threaten blackmail with photos, confidential information, etc.

In many cases of coercion, a trafficker will hold onto a person’s legal or travel documents, making the victim dependent on the trafficker. Especially for an immigrant, being in a country without documents could be an easy reason or deportation. Without his or her documentation, a person is much less likely to escape from a pimp, for he or she recognizes the danger of being on the loose, undocumented.


Yet in most cases, these forms are not used independent of one another.  In Teresa Flores’s case, her pimp payed a lot of attention to her, smiled at her, and kindly offered her a ride home from school one day (fraud). Instead, he drugged and raped her (force). Then, took photos of her and threatened to show them to her father and his boss, essentially humiliating her and getting him fired (coercion).


There is no one way that a person gets trafficked or controlled. Because traffickers use such a multitude of tactics, it is so much more difficult to eradicate those base causes and prevent a person from being trafficked in the first place. And because the multifarious ways that pimps keep their victims under control, it is also extremely difficult to rescue a person from human trafficking. Once you can begin to understand these three forms, though, you can start to really appreciate the complexity that is human trafficking.

To read more about Force, Fraud, and Coercion, read How Human Trafficking Works.