People fall into the hands of traffickers in a number of ways. Sometimes they are kidnapped, but most often victims are lured with phony job offers. Traffickers entice people to migrate voluntarily with false promises of well-paying jobs in foreign countries as domestic workers, models, dancers, au pairs, prostitutes, etc. Crime gangs often use marriage agency databases and match-making parties to find victims. However, patterns for recruitment are changing all the time. While in the past the recruitment process was facilitated by newspaper ads and anonymous agencies, nowadays the initial contact is rather made by acquaintances, friends or even relatives, who refer on to other persons. Traffickers often approach people directly with offers of lucrative jobs or other opportunities elsewhere. After providing transportation and false documentation (passports, visas, work contracts, etc.), they subsequently charge exorbitant fees for those services, as well as for working space, accommodation, food, clothes, thus creating a debt bondage which is very difficult to pay off. At present traffickers tend to use threats and psychological demoralisation instead of physical force to control their victims.

Trafficking in human beings has established itself as a lucrative business next to the illegal weapons and drug trade. It is believed to generate billions of dollars annually for well-networked criminal organisations operating world-wide. Trafficking in persons also occurs through smaller, decentralised criminal networks that may specialise in recruiting, transporting or harbouring victims. Trafficking is also known to be perpetrated by small family criminal groups who control the entire operation. Individuals working independently may also traffic persons for profit. They all can be facilitated by other 'indirect' beneficiaries, such as advertising, distribution, or retail companies or consumers.

Human trafficking is not only transnational problem. In some countries the number of people trafficked within a country is also on the increase.

Human trafficking has been condemned by many religious leaders. On the occasion of the International Conference on Twenty-First Century Slavery, John Paul II wrote: “The trade in human persons constitutes a shocking offence against human dignity and a grave violation of fundamental human rights, which … constitutes “a supreme dishonour to the Creator” (Gaudium et Spes, 27)”.