Module 1: Human Trafficking - An Overview

Fall 2018 - Spring 2019

Human trafficking/modern-day slavery has received renewed attention over the last twenty years, raising urgent questions about the causes and dimensions of the phenomenon as well as effective approaches to addressing it. This module provides an overview of human trafficking in both international and U.S. contexts. Students will explore its history, current definitions, various manifestations, relevant legal frameworks, and effective approaches to address it.

Read more

Course materials

Module Materials

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the current definitions under relevant legal frameworks (with a focus on the Palermo Protocol and U.S. law).

  2. Have a concrete sense of the different ways in which human trafficking presents itself around the world (especially where there is force, fraud or coercion).

  3. Distinguish human trafficking and modern-day slavery from other types of human exploitation that are not slavery or slavery-like (examples include smuggling, prostitution and sex work, labor abuses, certain forms of child labor).

  4. Be aware of the main features of the “4P” approach - prosecution, protection, prevention, and partnership - to addressing human trafficking.

  5. Have a basic familiarity with the relationship between Catholic social teaching and the issues in the module.


Discussion Questions

  1. What is your working answer to the question: “What is human trafficking?” What do you think are its common elements?

  2. How are human trafficking and modern slavery sometimes conflated or confused with other exploitative practices?

  3. How might you identify an individual or group as vulnerable to human trafficking?

  4. What do approaches to human trafficking look like on an international scale? Can you describe the international community’s “4P” approach? What do campaigns for prosecution, protection, prevention, and partnership look like in specific countries? How does the tier system established by the U.S. State Department work?

  5. How relevant do you think human trafficking is to your daily life?

  6. What is the relationship between Catholic social teaching and the issues in this module?

Primary Resources

Survivor Stories


These are three stories of human trafficking victims-turned-survivors that will evolve during the succession of the Modules.  They will elaborate on some examples of real life experiences.


Joseph's Sons



Contribution of Catholic Social Teaching


Summary of Rerum Novarum

Marking the 120th anniversary of its publication, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference issued a summary statement on Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum.  Written in 1891, Rerum Novarum is considered to be the first papal encyclical to form what we now consider a full body of Catholic social teaching and which has a particular focus on the dignity and rights of workers.  7 pages.

“Australian Bishops on ‘Rerum Novarum’ Anniversary.”  Zenit_THE WORLD SEEN FROM ROME.  May 21, 2011.  Web.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: Human Trafficking Backgrounder

This USCCB document will familiarize you with the issue of human trafficking and the Church's position on this “horrific crime against the fundamental rights and dignity of the human person.”  2 pages.

 “Human Trafficking.”  Migration and Refugee Service, Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, November 2014.  Web. 

No Longer Slaves, but Brothers and Sisters

In his 2015 World Day of Peace message, Francis asks “my brothers and sisters in faith and all men and women of good will for a decisive choice to combat trafficking of person, which includes ‘slave labor'.”

 “Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace 1 January 2015: No Longer Slaves, But Brothers and Sisters.”  Delivered by Pope Francis at The Vatican, January 1, 2015.  Web. 

Human Trafficking is All Around You


In her TED Talk, journalist Noy Thrupkaew discusses the relevance of human trafficking to people’s daily lives and exposes common misconceptions about the nature of human trafficking and the populations that this crime affects.  18:52 minutes.

 “Human trafficking is all around you.  This is how it works.”  TED Talk delivered by Noy Thrupkaew, March 2015.  Web.

Catholic Relief Services Resources


7 Things You May Not Know About Human Trafficking, and 3 Ways to Help

“You may not see the problem, but it’s there. … It’s happening around the world every day.”  Learn more about what you may not know about human trafficking and identify ways to help.

Rebekah Kates Lemke.  “7 Things You May Not Know About Human Trafficking, and 3 Ways to Help.”  Catholic Relief Services, November 16, 2016.  Web.

Turn on the Light.  Help Stop Human Trafficking. 

This webpage gives basic information and features several videos and other resources describing what human trafficking is, how CRS responds, and how others can get involved.

Turn on the Light. Help Stop Human Trafficking.  Catholic Relief Services.  Web. 

A Crime Against Humanity

This animated video shows how Catholic Relief Services uses a strategy of prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnership in its anti-trafficking work.  2:44 minutes.

A Crime Against Humanity.  YouTube video with commentary from Catholic Relief Services, May 23, 2017.  Web.

Trafficking in Persons Report


The Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), produced annually by the U.S. Department of State, assesses how effectively countries around the world are combating human trafficking by placing them at different tiers based on their efforts. Recommended reading: "Overview" Pages 2-3, 8-9, 17, 25-26, 28, 38-39, and 53; "Survivors’ Stories" Pages 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, and 21.  454 pages total. 

Trafficking in Persons Report June 2017.  Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, U.S. Department of State, June 2017.  Web.

Unfinished Business: A Comparative Survey of Historical and Contemporary Slavery


This book discusses the history of slavery, the difficulty in quantifying the number of slaves, and the similarities/differences between historical slavery and contemporary slavery.  Recommended reading: pages 23-24 (end of first full paragraph), 27-28 (before final paragraph), 30-33, 35, 45-50 (contemporary forms of slavery), and 102-112 (specific country case studies.)  141 pages. 

Joel Quirk.  Unfinished Business: A Comparative Survey of Historical and Contemporary Slavery.  Paris: UNESCO and Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation, 2008.  Web.

The Polaris Project: Typology of Modern Slavery


The Polaris Project, a leader in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery, explains the varied manifestations of human trafficking around the world on this webpage, which provides short, paragraph-long summaries. These are taken from the full 80-page The Typology of Modern Slavery report.

 “The Typology of Modern Slavery: Defining Sex and Labor Trafficking in the United States.”  Polaris Freedom happens now.  Polaris Project, March 2017.  Web.

Palermo Protocol


The United Nations Human Rights Commission defines human trafficking and advocates both for protection of survivors as well as prevention in the “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children,” more commonly known as the “Palermo Protocol.”  Adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly on November 15, 2000.  Pay attention to Article 3.  10 pages. 

 “Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime.”  United Nations Human Rights Commission.  OHCHR, November 15, 2000.  Web. 

How to Combat Modern Slavery


Kevin Bales, a prominent expert in anti-trafficking efforts, delivers a TED talk addressing what constitutes modern-day slavery and how being informed about supply chains is important for combating it.  17:46 minutes.

How to Combat Modern Slavery.” TED Talk delivered by Kevin Bates, February 2010. Web.

Secondary Resources

1. For more on U.S. law on trafficking-in-persons, see “Summary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and Reauthorizations FY2017.”  Source: ATEST (Alliance to End Slavery & Trafficking).  Posted: January 11, 2017.

2. Rerum NovarumLeo XIII wrote this encyclical on the Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor in 1891.  Source: The Vatican.  Published: May 15, 1891.

3. Centesimus Annus: John Paul II wrote this encyclical in 1991 to honor the one hundreth anniversary of Rerum Novarum.  Specifically, these 6 pages of Centesimus Annus provide a great summary of Rerum Novarum.  Published: May 1, 1991.  

4. Survivor Stories: Explore the stories of survivors of various forms of trafficking.  Source: Polaris Project.

5. Wander along the "Timeline of Human Trafficking," which highlights key historical moments from 1400 until 2011 that relate to human trafficking and anti-trafficking efforts.  Source: Rutgers University Campus Coalition Against Trafficking.  Posted: 2011.

6. Taking a Step Back: A one-day workshop to begin formulating a comprehensive action-framework to prevent human trafficking, is a report from a conference organized by Catholic Relief Services and The Center for Civil and Human Rights, University of Notre Dame, held on July 11, 2017.  Source: Catholic Relief Services and The Center for Civil and Human Rights, University of Notre Dame.  28 pages.