Human Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid


There is a form of slavery happening throughout the country called human trafficking.  Human trafficking is when a person uses force, fraud, or coercion to make another perform sex acts or other labor.  Human trafficking affects children and adults, men and women. It happens in urban and rural areas. 

Iowa Legal Aid can help victims of trafficking with civil legal remedies that can improve their lives. For example, we help clients to get civil protection orders, civil injunctions, and benefits.  

  • A civil injunction can keep the trafficker from having contact with the victim.
  • Disability and other benefits can help victims become financially independent, making it easier for them to leave. 
  • Victims seeking assistance with civil legal matters related to trafficking or abuse can apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid.

There are 2 types of trafficking: labor trafficking and sex trafficking. The federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act defines them as follows:

Labor trafficking is:

  • 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, debt bondage, peonage, or slavery.

Types of labor trafficking can include:

  • Domestic work, like landscaping or house cleaning
  • Farm labor
  • Sweat shop factory work
  • Janitorial, food service, or other service industry work

Sex trafficking is:

  • The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for sex acts
  • Where the sex acts are induced by force, fraud, or coercion
  • or the person has not yet reached 18 years of age.

Sex trafficking can  include:

  • Prostitution
  • Escort services/fake massage businesses
  • Strip clubs
  • Mail-order  brides
  • Truck stops
  • Pornography

There could be a variety of different relationships between a trafficker and a victim. 

Traffickers could be:

  • Strangers
  • Employers
  • Acquaintances
  • Trusted family friend
  • Family members
  • Spouse or significant others
  • Gangs or other criminal networks

Traffickers keep victims under control by various methods, including the following:

  • Psychological control
  • Threats
  • To beat or rape the victim
  • To hurt family members
  • To tell family members what the victim has done (e.g. sex trade)
  • To report the victim to the police or immigration
  • Keeping the victim under constant supervision
  • Physical control, such as assault, rape, drugging, confining, or kidnapping
  • Failing to provide necessities, like food, water, and medical treatment

For these reasons, victims often cannot or do not seek help.  They fear that the consequences of trying to get help are too great.  This is why it is important to be aware of signs that a person may be a victim of trafficking.  Here are some things to watch for:

Physical signs:

  • Unexplained or poorly explained injuries
  • Medical neglect, malnutrition
  • Tattoos or brands
  • Intense fear or depression
  • New sexually transmitted infections diagnosed

Material signs:

  • Multiple cell phones and hotel access keys
  • Has a fake ID card
  • Has nice clothes, jewelry or other items all of a sudden

Psychological signs:

  • Has lost time
  • Cannot speak for his/herself
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Appears fearful, depressed, anxious, or tense
  • Has lost control of his/her life
  • No control over money or has no money
  • No control over ID card
  • Not free to come and go as they want
  • Transported by someone else to go to work
  • Cannot say for certain where they live
  • Not allowed contact with family
  • Sleep deprivation

Because traffickers can be very dangerous, it is important not to try to force a victim to admit to being trafficked, or to leave. For more information, or to get specialized victim services, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline: 888-373-7888 or go to their website, Another resource is the Coalition Against Trafficking In Women –


  • Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 
    • To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:call 800-532-1275. 
    • Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or 
    • apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice. 
Last Review and Update: Mar 14, 2023
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