Unveiling the Shadows: Human Trafficking in Communities of Color

Feb 01st, 2024

By Leah Forney, Underserved Populations Policy Advocate and Natalie Bishop, Human Trafficking Staff Attorney

Human trafficking is a grave global issue that transcends borders, affecting individuals from all walks of life. However, within the broader context of this heinous crime, communities of color often bear a disproportionate burden. This article sheds light on what human trafficking entails, highlights the signs to watch for, and delves into the specific impact on communities of color.

What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery that exploits individuals through force, fraud, or coercion for various purposes, including forced labor, sexual exploitation, and involuntary servitude. This criminal industry thrives on the vulnerability of its victims, preying on those facing economic hardships, social marginalization, or political instability. While many people may envision Human Trafficking as occurring only in other countries, the truth is that this crime occurs within the United States borders, and here in Maryland.

Under United States Federal Law, human trafficking is a crime against a person. In 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act defined and criminalized both sex trafficking and labor trafficking in the United States. The law defines sex trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act, in which the 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.” The law defines labor trafficking as “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” (Public Law 106 - 386 - Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000).

During the 2023 legislative session, Maryland Lawmakers finally passed a Safe Harbor Bill, which went into effect in October of 2023. MCASA was a strong advocate for this bill, working with lawmakers and providing testimony in support of its passage. This law protects children survivors of trafficking from prosecution of certain crimes they may commit as a result of the trafficking. The law also connects survivors with the Regional Navigator program which can connect them with necessary resources and services (Safe Harbor for Minor Victims of Sex Trafficking – HB297/SB292). 

What are some of the signs of Human Trafficking?

1. Isolation and Control:

Victims are often isolated from their communities, friends, and family. Traffickers exert control through psychological manipulation, threats, or physical violence.

2. Controlled Communication:

Traffickers tightly control the communication of their victims. This can look like monitoring their phone calls, restricting access to social media, and providing scripted responses when interacting with others. This tactic is used to isolate victims from potential sources of help.

3. Sexual Exploitation:

Signs include frequent relocation, inability to speak freely, or signs of physical abuse. Victims may also be forced into the commercial sex trade against their will.

4. Restricted Freedom of Movement:

Trafficked individuals may be unable to move freely, possess identification documents, or make personal decisions without permission from their traffickers.

5. Fear and Distrust:

Victims of human trafficking often exhibit signs of fear, anxiety, or distrust. This can look like reluctance to speak with authorities, avoid eye contact, or inconsistent stories when questioned.

How does Human Trafficking Impact Communities of Color?

Human trafficking also has a greater impact on communities of color. Communities of color are oftentimes at greater risk for human trafficking, especially youth. According to the National Library of Medicine, In a 2008-2010 review of human trafficking cases conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, 40% of sex trafficking victims in the U.S. were Black. African American and Latino youth are also overrepresented in child sex trafficking cases. According to the FBI, 52.3% of all juvenile arrests for commercial sex acts in 2014 were African-American children and 18.8% were Hispanic or Latino children (2014 Crime Data). Another alarming statistic stated that in an interview with the Urban Institute, traffickers admittedly believe trafficking Black women would land them less jail time than trafficking White women if caught (Urban Institute, 2016)

1. Economic Vulnerability:

 Communities of color often face higher levels of economic vulnerability due to systemic inequalities, making them prime targets for traffickers seeking to exploit financial desperation.

2. Systemic Racism:

Discriminatory systems can limit access to education and employment opportunities, leaving individuals in communities of color more susceptible to traffickers promising a way out of their circumstances.

3. Cultural and Linguistic Barriers:

Traffickers exploit cultural and linguistic barriers within communities of color, making it challenging for victims to seek help or for authorities to identify and assist them.

4. Immigration Status:

 Undocumented individuals may fear reporting trafficking incidents due to the risk of deportation, making them high risk for exploitation.

5. Limited Resources and Support:

Communities of color may lack sufficient resources and support systems to combat human trafficking effectively. Strengthening community networks and awareness is crucial in addressing this issue.

Human trafficking is a dark reality that affects communities of color disproportionately. By understanding the signs and acknowledging the unique challenges faced by these communities, we can work towards fostering awareness, promoting support systems, and ultimately combating this grave violation of human rights. Together, we can bring an end to the shadows that shroud the lives of those affected by human trafficking.


Cook MC, Le PD, García JJ. Addressing Racism in the Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking of Black Girls: The Role of Public Health Critical Race Praxis. Public Health Rep. 2022 Jul-Aug;137(1_suppl):10S-16S. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35775910/

Davey, Samantha (2020). Snapshot on the State of Black Women and Girls: Sex Trafficking in the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Retrieved from: https://www.cbcfinc.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/SexTraffickingReport3.pdf

Fact Sheet: Human Trafficking. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office on Trafficking in Persons. Retrieved from: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/otip/fact-sheet/resource/fshumantrafficking

Taylor Paiz, Taylor & Van Schooneveld, Amber (2022). Race and Human Trafficking: How This Crime Disproportionately Affects Ethnic Minorities and Indigenous Persons. The Exodus Road. Retrieved from: https://theexodusroad.com/race-and-human-trafficking/

Related Articles

Stay In The Loop

Sign up for our mailing list to receive Frontline, MCASA’s quarterly eNewsletter, and stay updated on MCASA’s programs and upcoming events and training in Maryland.

Sign Up