Human trafficking is alive and well in the United States. We don’t have the labor camps, child soldiers or prostitution rings that some countries do, but many of these things do exist within our borders and in certain places they even flourish. To think that we have moved beyond such things is a stark denial of the truth — it happens in major cities, and it happens in small, rural towns.

Perpetrators range from illegal immigrants to a literal American cheerleader pimping out her own teammates. Recently, I went the International Association of Human Trafficking Investigators (IAHTI) conference. They made it abundantly clear that there is no way to accurately profile human traffickers, and that doing so may cause the investigator to possibly miss a culprit who doesn’t fit whatever idea of perpetrator they had made up in their heads. The cheerleader story is a prime example of that.

First of all, human trafficking can cover a couple of different areas, so it helps to have a clear definition of what it really means. The FBI calls it a “form of human slavery” that includes, “forced labor, domestic servitude, and commercial sex trafficking.” They point out that it, “involves both U.S. citizens and foreigners alike, and has no demographic restrictions.”

The Department of Homeland Security defines it as such: “Human trafficking is modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.”