Human Trafficking, Smuggling Are Not The Same
The two crimes are sometimes similar, but the victims are quite distinct.
A suspected human trafficker whose last known address was Tampa made national headlines last month when a story related to the case against him was broadcast on “America’s Most Wanted.”
But, as human trafficking becomes a more commonly heard term, many people don’t fully understand what is meant by "trafficking," officials say. Often, people confuse trafficking and smuggling, thinking the two terms are interchangeable.
Although the two crimes sometimes piggyback each other, they are very different, explained Pasco County Sheriff’s Cpl. Alan Wilkett.
“Human smuggling is a crime against our border,” he said. “Trafficking (is a) crime against a person.”
Smugglers are typically paid by people who wish to cross the border illegally. The relationship between the smuggler and the person who is smuggled may end once a border crossing is made.
On the other hand, trafficking victims may or may not be illegal immigrants. While some are smuggled, all are forced to perform acts of labor, servitude or sex for the financial gain of the trafficker, Wilkett said.
The Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking defines trafficking as the commercial use and exploitation of people who are forced into the sex trade or other forms of servitude for the gain of another. Trafficking may involve “forced prostitution and pornography, involuntary labor, servitude and debt bondage.”
Since smuggling has an easy to identify victim – the border – these cases are often easier to prosecute, Wilkett said. In trafficking cases, victims may not see themselves as victims and they may not come forward to seek assistance. This often enables both the victim and the trafficker to "hide in plain sight," Wilkett said.
When a person is “trafficked,” Wilkett said, one of three main factors is typically present in the case:
- Force – The person is forced to perform certain tasks either by being beaten, raped or otherwise made to stay in line with the trafficker’s wishes.
- Fraud – Some traffickers line up their victims by making them promises, Wilkett said. A smuggler/trafficker, for example, might promise an immigrant passage to the United States and a "better life." When the person arrives, he or she will be placed into some type of forced labor instead.
- Coercion – The victim is coerced into performing an undesirable act.
“(In) human trafficking, there is no straight line to prosecution,” Wilkett said.
“Most victims are underground and they don’t realize they’re victims,” explained Lt. George Koder of the Clearwater Police Department and a member of the Clearwater Tampa Bay Area Task Force On Human Trafficking. “
To learn more about human trafficking, visit the Clearwater task force’s website at catfht.org.