Approximately a hundred and fifty years ago the American government abolished slavery and any form of activities associated with slavery. However, slavery is still a problem even in the modern society and most Americans and in this case, most Californians find it unbelievable that modern-day slavery that is human trafficking is prevalent within their communities. This type of slavery is concealed within masks of deception, takes away the freedom of individuals, and is a violation of the promise that every individual in the country is guaranteed of the fundamental human rights. Slavery as it occurs today significantly differs from that in the historical past that involved the public purchase and selling of humans for forced labor.

Human trafficking involves the control of individuals using either force, corruption, or coercion (physical/psychological) with the aim of exploiting the individual for forced labor, sexual exploitation, or both.  Human trafficking as a term and concept has a grim reality, for instance, workers who are crowded in small rooms that have minimal ventilation with windows that are covered, girls that are unwillingly held and coerced into prostitution, domestic workers who work without any rest or breaks, or welders working in dire conditions and they all do this without any freedom to leave.

Over the last ten years, there has been the increased concern at the international level related to cross-border trafficking of humans especially the trafficking of women and presently children for sexual purposes. Mainstream research conducted in the past ignored the aspect of female sex trafficking as they assumed that these women followed the men and in literature discussing human trafficking women are hyper-visible (Rao & Presenti, 2012). Human trafficking, today is synonymous with trafficking for the aim of sex work that mainly comprises of females (women and girls). The trafficking for forced labor comprised of mainly men and boys. This male component has, however, been ignored as a part of the global human trafficking problem, however, this is not the focus of discussion for this study.

California is among the greatest destination for human traffickers in America. This has been contributed by the fact that the state has an extensive international border, it also has major harbors and airports, a powerful economy and increasing population, a large immigrant population, and numerous industries. In addition to the direct harm trafficking causes to the victims, it can also severely impact the Californian communities.  The interaction between human trafficking and other forms of criminal activities such as the trafficking of drugs, human smuggling, and laundering of money increases the potential of organized crime.

Slavery has been outlawed in America since 1865, however, this freedom is still not a reality for a large number of men, women, and children that experience forced labor and prostitution even in present America. Forced labor and sex trafficking are among the brutal relics of historical crimes and comprise of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the U.S. and the world. While the vice is popular among all the states in the country, it appears to be greater in the state California. This is may be attributed to the factors aforementioned that render it a good location for the activity. For example, the Human Trafficking Task Forces from nine regions in California identified about 1,300 victims of human trafficking and indicated that this number was larger for the entire state if all the regions were considered. Moreover, most of these victims (56%) were trafficked for sexual purposes while 21% were for forced labor. Therefore, the purpose of conducting this study is to conduct an investigation of whether human trafficking as crime is more prevalent in California compared to the other 49 states in the U.S. In addition, to highlight the reasons behind this disparity as there appears to be a correlation between the conditions that exacerbate human trafficking and the lack of enforcement of existing human trafficking enforcement strategies in California.

Problem Statement

            Under the present laws and legislation of the trafficking of humans, human trafficking comprises of the forceful, fraudulent, and coerced control of a person for labor or other services. This is a criminal activity against men, women, and children of varying nationalities and socioeconomic backgrounds. The “business” is considered to have a minimal risk but with high profits and estimated to generate approximately $32 billion annually in the world. This has consequently attracted an increased participation of more sophisticated and more organized criminal groups. Local gangs have disregarded their traditional rivalries and are presently focused on sex trafficking where they maximize their incomes through the sale of young women. Furthermore, international gangs utilize tunnels running across borders to move human beings including other contrabands, for example, between California and Mexico.

Human trafficking is a growing problem in the country and California which is the 9th largest economy in America and has an extensive international border is considered to among the leading (top four) destinations of human trafficking in America (Center for Public Policy Studies, 2013). To deal with the vise, the state the state established nine regional anti-human trafficking task forces that utilize an approach that is comprehensive and victim-centered and comprised of local, state, and federal prosecutors, law enforcement agencies, and other leaders in government including non-governmental organizations (NGOs) (Center for Public Policy Studies, 2013). These taskforces ensure the implementation of laws and legislation to combat trafficking and offer training to various individuals and groups on the identification and response to human trafficking. These task forces have also been heavily funded both by the state and state agencies such as the Department of Justice and other agencies (Harris, 2012). For instance, the California Emergency Management Agency (Cal EMA) that utilized the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant funds back in 2009 for purposes of supplementing the task forces that had been earlier established and setting-up new task forces.

However, despite the enactment of various laws and legislation and the establishment of task forces to deal with human trafficking, the prevalence of human trafficking appears to be still prevalent in California compared to other states (Harris, 2012). For instance, the Attorney General’s office reported that between mid-2010 and mid-2012, California identified approximately 1,277 victims of human trafficking and arrested about 1,798 perpetrators of the crime and these were from 2,552 investigations (Varney, 2013). It is also reported that these numbers are significantly low because of either underreporting of the cases of trafficking or under identifying the victims and perpetrators (Harris, 2012). As a matter of fact, an ore recent study conducted by the Justice Department revealed that 1 out of 3 of the undocumented immigrants in the county of San Diego in California were victims of trafficking.

The Justice Department of California has also confirmed that human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise globally and in regards to profitability is only second to drug trafficking. (California Peace Officers Association, 2016) The California Peace Officers Association (CPOA) also recognizes that human trafficking as an epidemic will continue being among the most talked about crimes in the states for many years (California Peace Officers Association, 2016). This is especially due to the presence of more massage parlors in the state including other fronts for human trafficking and prostitution that are increasing and spreading throughout the state.

Purpose and Objectives of the Study

            Organized crime that occurs transnationally is a diverse and complicated venture. It comprises of a wide range of criminal activities that are motivated by profit and perpetrated by an increasing number of international crime syndicates that are found within and outside California (Harris, 2014). Today, such transnational organizations and gangs have found the trafficking of human beings as a lucrative and ever-expanding venture. In fact, it is believed to be among the most profitable illegal activity with a profit of between $13,000 per annum per each forced laborer and $100,000 or more for every victim of traffick for sexual purposes (Harris, 2014).

As indicated by Harris (2012), the state is among the most affected by the vice due to its closeness to the southwest border, its robust economy, and the large population of immigrants. Within two years (2012 – 2014) the Task Forces established over 1,300 victims of human trafficking with the actual number supposedly being significantly greater (Harris, 2014). Virtually all forms of crime syndicates in the state are involved in human trafficking in one form or the other with the key facilitators of these crimes being the Asian (Asian Gangsters) and Eurasian (Armenian Power) for both the local and international trafficking in the state. Especially sex trafficking. This has made California a hotbed for human trafficking when compared to all the other states in the country.

Given the fact that most of the cases of human trafficking are underreported in the state it implies that there is even more than meets the eye. As discussed above, it is the 4th largest state involved in human trafficking in the country, however, given the underlying level of underreporting of these cases, California may be in fact the leading destination of this criminal activity. Therefore, deriving from the study’s title the main purpose of this study is to find out through an investigation of whether human trafficking is more prevalent in California compared to the other states in America. In this light the study’s objectives include;

  1. To find out which countries do most of the human trafficked persons come from.
  2. To highlight what makes these countries most susceptible to human trafficking.
  • To establish once in California, which cities are the most likely to be the destination of human traffickers.
  1. To highlight why California law enforcement makes human trafficking such a low-priority enforcement area.
  2. To establish why so few cases of human trafficking get prosecuted.
  3. To find out whether sanctuary cities make it easier for human traffickers.

Research Questions

The research questions of this study were derived from the objectives of the study and they included:

  1. From which countries do most of the human trafficked persons come from?
  2. What makes these countries most susceptible to human trafficking?
  • Once in California, which cities are the most likely to be the destination of human traffickers?
  1. Why does California law enforcement make human trafficking such a low-priority enforcement area?
  2. Why do so few cases of human trafficking get prosecuted?
  3. Do sanctuary cities make it easier for human traffickers?

Definition of Terms

Human Trafficking:

Involuntary Servitude



Slavery: The condition or system by which individuals (slaves) are owned by other individuals that control almost every aspect of their lives.

Research Hypothesis

            Today, lawmakers and enforcers of the law are struggling to identify and deal with human trafficking 150 years after the abolishment of slavery. This is considered to be modern-day slavery promoted by those who intend to maximize profits using force and deception towards especially the marginalized groups into labor and sexual practices that are exploitative (Farrell, Owens, & McDevitt, 2014). In America trafficking is of various types ranging from a laborer who is looking for a source of income but forced into exploitative work or a child looking for love and protection falling in love with a pimp (Farrell et al., 2014). Despite the horrific accounts of human trafficking, there is minimum knowledge related to the nature of the crime including the effectiveness of strategies put in place to combat the crime.

As a response to the increased concern on trafficking from the public, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA) was enacted in 2000. This Act defined the elements of trafficking as a crime and enhanced penalties for activities associated with trafficking, for instance, peonage, slavery, and involuntary servitude (Farrell et al., 2014). By nature, trafficking encompasses violations contained in other laws such as labor and immigration, kidnapping, slavery, imprisonment, assault, fraud, and pandering just to mention a few.  However, the penalties that have been put in place are weak with the statutory language characterizing the victims as complicit. Furthermore, they do not provide any provisions for the protection of the victims from being prosecuted under offenses related to prostitution nor do they have immigration protections for migrant victims that are unauthorized provided by the TVPA (Farrell et al., 2014). Therefore, the hypothesis for this study is there is the correlation between the conditions that exacerbate human trafficking and the lack of enforcement of existing human trafficking enforcement strategies in California.

Research Methodology

            This study employed a secondary analysis of data approach and this is due to the sensitivity of the topic of study and also the vastness of resources from past studies conducted in the area being studied. The sources were obtained from the National University Library, California Department of Justice website, and other sources of from the internet. The study employed a qualitative approach to establish its findings and provide the appropriate recommendations.

Limitations of the Study

Most of the studies conducted are based on countrywide analyses hence limited data for a specific state such as California. Moreover, as indicated, there is significant underreporting of cases on human trafficking in the state hence the data used was based on approximations which put doubt on the validity and reliability of the studies and the results of this study. Finally, the results obtained were for the state of California alone hence cannot be generalized to other states in America.


            This study comprised of five chapters where the first chapter included the introduction to the study that involved a discussion of the study’s background, the statement of the problem, and the purposes and objectives. It also highlighted the research questions, provided the definition of terms, the hypothesis, and methodology of the study, and, finally, the limitations of the study. Chapter involved a review of the literature and provided a discussion of some of the key elements inherent in the topic being studied to provide an inner understanding of the subject area and this laid the foundation for the next Chapter. The chapter provided a discussion of the methodology of the study and since it involved a review of the literature, it highlighted the selection criteria and the data sources that were reviewed. Chapter 4 provided the findings and analysis of the review of the literature and the analysis is based on the discussion provided in Chapter 2. Finally, Chapter 5 provides the conclusions of the study including the necessary recommendations from the findings and proposed the areas for future research.





Literature Review

Human Trafficking

Definitions of human trafficking are highly contested among different groups of scholars and institutions. This poses a significant challenge in engaging research studies, statistical reporting, and making generalizations (Desyllas, 2007). Traditionally, trafficking has been defined at the nation and international level using ethnocentric terms and language and on the basis of western assumptions (Desyllas, 2007). The term trafficking has been for a long time used interchangeably with other diverse concepts such as illegal immigration, modern-day slavery, prostitution, and the exploitation of women sexually (Desyllas, 2007). The definition of trafficking does not clearly provide a distinction between trafficking and the exploitation of both men and women often combining the migratory movement of individuals especially women with trafficking (Desyllas, 2007). Furthermore, trafficking is also seen as part of the patterns of migration mainly the undocumented flows. Factoring in the aspect of economic globalization, trafficking can be defined as the complete commoditization of human beings that are traded across different borders within or outside a particular country such as any good/product.

The term trafficking in persons refers to recruiting, transporting, and harboring individuals for purposes of providing forced services. The images of victims traditionally held by individuals are of women and/or children that are forced to engage in sexual activities. However, trafficked individuals also comprise of individuals of all ages that are exploited through unfair labor practices.

The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking, Especially Women and Children defines the trafficking of humans/persons as recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring, or receiving people through threats, force, or other types of coercion for exploitative purposes (Christenson, 2013).Under this definition, the trafficking of an adult human demands that very process, means, and goals to existing except where they are below 18 years where the process and goal of trafficking are the only parameters required. This definition was approved and accepted in 2000 by the UN as a standard for addressing multinational issues of trafficking and assist countries to create their comprehensive legislative definitions.

This definition was later adopted by the U.S. within the Victims in Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (VTVPA) of the year 2000 with minimal alterations and expansions. It provides a simplified means to broad categories of force, fraud, and coercion. Force here is defined as the physical restraint, harm, and violence. Fraud is defined as false promises regarding employment, wages, or the type of employment and coercion as threats of physical harm/restraint in a pattern targeted at controlling the persons who are trafficked. It also provides a clear and more simple distinction between the different trafficking types that are sex and labor trafficking.

Sex Trafficking

            Sex trafficking can be defined as the trafficking of humans for purposes of engaging in sex acts that are commercial in nature (Anthony, Penrose, & Jakiel, 2017). These are acts that are sexual in nature that is engaged in for money or other valuable things. Sex work/prostitution is incomparable to sex trafficking as they comprise of engagement in sexual acts commercially without coercion (Anthony et al., 2017). Comprehending the difference between sex work and trafficking is vital when putting up policies that target trafficking explicitly

Labor Trafficking

Labor trafficking, on the other hand, is by definition the trafficking of individuals for purposes of labor and other services. These people are often coerced through debt bondage or peonage where the traffickers require forced labor for repaying real or alleged debt (Anthony et al., 2017). However, this debt is not paid down at a reasonable rate. This places the victim in a cycle of either real or perceived debt and is inheritable with a family.

Smuggling Versus Trafficking – The Difference

            Within the context of human trafficking, there is a related concept of migrant smuggling as evidenced in the previous discussion. This concept is often mistaken to be similar to human trafficking. Smuggling also commonly referred to as “facilitated migration,” involves illegally taking an individual across a border (Barnett, 2016). In this case, the individual being taken across consents and reimburses the smuggler for the service. On arrival at the desired destination, the smuggled individual often has no further communication with the smuggler (Barnett, 2016). On the other hand, human trafficking as discussed above involves using deception, coercion, and/or bondage through debt to exploit people who may be moved from one place to another but they do not necessarily cross borders.

However, the two concepts often overlap where the individuals that are smuggled often ending up being exploited just as those who are trafficked (Barnett, 2016).  This could be also in a situation where the smuggled individuals owe their smugglers transportation fee and work at exorbitant rates to pay off their debts. This could also be the situation for a migrant worker forced to work in conditions that are exploitative or the immigrant that is transported in unconducive conditions (Barnett, 2016). Therefore, charges of trafficking could be given if even the person that is smuggled has agreed from the beginning.

Causes of Trafficking

            There are numerous causes of human trafficking and these vary from country to country or state to state. Trafficking as a phenomenon is complex often driven or influenced by social, cultural, and economic factors. Most of these factors promote individual patterns of trafficking and the states where they take place. However, there are many common factors that promote trafficking in general or found in various regions, patterns, or cases. Among the factors is the exploitation of victims who desire to migrate but are exploited by their smugglers as a means of recruiting them or gaining control over them only to be later replaced by coercive measures once they have been moved to another country or region that was not their original destination for migration. In addition, the local conditions of a state or country such as oppression, poverty, non-adherence to human rights, lack of opportunities, and lack of peace and instability making the populations want to migrate and seek better living conditions. Political instability, military actions and conduct, civil unrest, and natural disaster may lead to the rise of trafficking.

This displacement and destabilization of people make them increasingly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation through trafficking and forced labor. War and civil unrest result in massive displacement of people and this leaves orphans and street children susceptible to trafficking. These factors put much pressure on the victims that force them to migrate and hence into the hands of the traffickers. Wealth and poverty are the other factors that promote trafficking and migration where victims move from areas of dire poverty to areas of lesser poverty. Moreover, the rapid expansion of broadcast and media telecommunication include the internet in the developing nations increase the desire for migration into more developed countries and this makes individuals vulnerable to trafficking.

Furthermore, the practice of entrusting children from poor families to friends that are more affluent or relatives makes these children vulnerable to trafficking. Other parents sell their children at times for monetary purposes and at times hoping they will have better lives where they will have better opportunities and hence inducting them into trafficking.

In other States, the inherent practices (social/cultural) contribute to human trafficking. For instance, devaluating women and girls makes them disproportionately susceptible to trafficking. Moreover, matters to do with the porosity of borders, corruption within the government, international and domestic organized crime syndicates, and a limited capacity of commitment by the immigration officials and law enforcement to place some control over the borders. Finally, the absence of adequate legislation or the presence of insufficient legislation facilitates the trafficking.

 Human Trafficking Statistics

            Human trafficking as a crime affects almost all if not all countries in the world. One hundred and fifty-two victims from different nations were identified as victims of trafficking globally between 2010 and 2012 (UNODC, 2016). Furthermore, trafficking flows which are the imaginary lines connecting the country of origin and destination of at least five victims criss-cross around the world with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) identifying at the minimum 510 flows.

Victims of human trafficking are transported numerous trafficking routes inside a country, between neighboring countries, and different continents. Western and South European nations detected victims from 137 different nationalities (UNODC, 2016). More affluent nations in Europe (Western and Southern), America (Northern), and the Middle East had victims from a wider range of countries compared to the other destinations. Most trafficking victims in the world originate from countries in East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa (UNODC, 2016). Sixty-nine countries had victims from countries in Sub-Saharan Africa between 2012 and 2014 and these were mainly in Africa, the Middle East, and Western and Southern Europe. Trafficking is also evident from Africa to South-East Asia and the U.S.

According to another report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) of 2014, there are approximately 21 million victims of human trafficking globally. Among these, 68% that is 14.2 million were labor exploited, 22% that is 4.5 million were sexually exploited, and 10% that is 2.2 million were exploited through state-imposed forced labor practices (Human Rights First, 2017). This forced labor was distributed in different industries with out of the 14.2 million, 50% that is  7.1 million found in construction, mining, manufacturing, or utilities, and 24% that is 3.4 million being domestic workers. In addition, 25% that is 3.5 million were in agriculture.

According to gender, 555% of those trafficked globally are women and girls while the remaining 45% are men and boys. Seventy-four percent (74%) of these victims are above 18-years-old and 26% that is 5.5 million is below 18 years (Human Rights First, 2017). Globally, most trafficked individuals (56% that is 11.7 million) engaged in forced labor are from the Asia-Pacific region, these regions are then followed by Africa at 18% that is 3.7 million that Latin America and the Caribbean at 9% that is 1.8 million (Human Rights First, 2017). Finally, the nation in the south-eastern and eastern including the Commonwealth of independent countries having 7% that is 1.6 million. Seven percent (1.5 million) were from the developed economies and the European Union (Human Rights First, 2017). Human trafficking does not always involve moving to a new destination where the individuals are exploited; forty-four percent that is 9.1 million victims moved internally/internationally with the majority that is 56% (11.8 million) were subjected to forced labor in their place of origin.

It is not possible to have an accurate calculation of the true number of the victim of human trafficking. This due to the differences in defining the term and the methodology including the lack of reliable data that produced significant variations in the estimates of the number of trafficked individuals.