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Find out about: trafficking

What is trafficking?

Human trafficking can be defined as a person being deceived or taken against their will, bought, sold and transported into an exploitative relationship for gain or other benefits. A victim of trafficking can enter a country legally or illegally, and trafficking can take place both within and across a nation's borders. A person can be sold and trafficked many times.

A person who has been trafficked can be exploited in many ways. Some are trafficked into prostitution, begging, forced labour, domestic service or forced marriage. They may suffer repeated physical abuse, fear, torture and threats to families to ensure their compliance.

In the case of adults, victims of trafficking are usually deceived or coerced into a situation that they cannot escape from. It is not considered possible for a child [a person under the age of 18] to give informed consent, therefore any child who is recruited, transported or transferred for the purposes of exploitation is considered to be a victim of trafficking, regardless of whether or not they have been forced or deceived.

Human trafficking versus people smuggling

Human trafficking differs from people smuggling. A smuggled person voluntarily requests or hires an individual, known as a smuggler, to covertly transport them from one location to another. This generally involves transportation from one country to another, where legal entry would be denied upon arrival at the international border. There may be no deception involved between the smuggled person and the smuggler. After entry into the country and arrival at their ultimate destination, the smuggled person is usually free to find their own way.

What is being done?

In the UK, the UK Human Trafficking Centre [UKHTC] provides a point of coordination for the development of expertise and cooperation to combat the trafficking of human beings. It works with stakeholders within the UK and internationally, including all UK police forces, local authorities and charitable organisations.

The National Referral Mechanism [NRM] is a framework for identifying potential victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive the appropriate care.

Further information on the UKHTC and the NRM [including statistics] can be found at 

How big is the problem?

Due to the illegal and covert nature of human trafficking, it is difficult to accurately estimate the scale of the problem. However, the International Organization for Migration [IOM] estimates that as many as 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, with many more trafficked within the borders of their own countries.

What can I do about it?

If you are in the UK, and you suspect that someone is being exploited or has been trafficked, either call contact your local police station or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

More information

Migration Yorkshire has produced a series of booklets, as part of the Integration Up North project, which provide an introduction to migration issues. Booklet 9 looks at the issues of trafficking migrants for labour exploitation and features definitions of trafficking and labour exploitation, outlines UK anti-trafficking laws and policies and looks at practical issues including the UK National Referral Mechanism, identifying a victim of trafficking for labour exploitation, and working with victims including children. Copies of all the booklets are available from the Introduction to migration page.

Other resources

Setting the record: the trafficking of migrant women in the England and Wales off-street prostitution sector  A report by the Association of Chief Police Offices [ACPO] – August 2010. Available from

SOLACE - Human trafficking report March 2009: the role of local authorities in addressing human trafficking  Available from [link to pdf document]

Suah: the story of a trafficked child  An illustrated children’s story book aimed at five to nine year olds. Available to purchase from WISE. Cheques for £10 [made payable to the University of Hull] should be sent to:

WISE [Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation]
27 High Street

Forced Labour in the UK - June 2013. This study contributes to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's forced labour programme, bringing together information on the scope of forced labour in the UK and the legal, policy and regulatory frameworks, with proposals for change. Available from

Page last updated: 10/06/2016 09:32:20

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