Forced Criminality: An Often-Overlooked Trafficking Industry

When we picture labor trafficking, images of workers in the agricultural or hospitality field may come to mind. Labor trafficking occurs throughout a variety of jobs and can occur outside of a legal industry.

Traffickers are extremely skilled at manipulating individuals to do what they want them to do, which can include committing crimes. This concept is called forced criminality, and it describes a situation in which a trafficker forces their victims into criminal activities, such as theft, illicit drug production or transport, begging, prostitution, creating fraudulent documents and more.

Barriers to Starting Over

Oftentimes, those trafficked through forced criminality are convicted for the crimes they committed while being trafficked. These convictions can follow an individual for life, barring them from many opportunities, such as legal employment and renting property. A previously trafficked person may be sent to jail or put on probation even after they have left the trafficking situation, making it nearly impossible to establish self-sufficiency and live an independent life.

Legal Protection Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Although there are legal avenues to expunge criminal records due to forced criminality, the law varies greatly from state to state. Missouri has been given an “F” rating for criminal record relief for survivors of trafficking by Polaris, the organization that runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Although Missouri has some criminal record relief for victims of trafficking, it only applies to those who were minors at the time of their arrest.

Many other states have much more advanced protections for past victims of trafficking in the form of criminal record relief. The state of New York has received an “A” rating from Polaris. A non-profit in New York state, the Legal Aid Society, announced that they have vacated over 2,000 convictions for victims of human trafficking, including victims of both types of trafficking and those that were adults at the time of their arrest. Laws like those in New York help clear individuals’ criminal records, making it easier for them to become independent and find employment, housing and more.

If you suspect you may be a victim of human trafficking or want to learn more information, please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888 or text “HELP” to 233733.


This blog post was produced by the International Institute of St. Louis under grant number 90ZV0144-01-00 awarded by the US Department of Health and Human Services. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the office position or policies of the US Department of Health and Human Services.