National Trends in Human Trafficking Data

Publication Date: March 29, 2016

Ms. Sarah Jakiel's Remarks to the HHS Task Force to Prevent and End Human Trafficking on March 29, 2016

Human trafficking is a crime and an abuse of human rights that affects men and women, adults and children, U.S. citizens and foreign nationals from all around the world, as well as people who may have documented or undocumented status in this country.

The essence of human trafficking is individuals or organized groups who seek to profit from the control and exploitation of vulnerable people. 

Polaris manages the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline for the United States with support from the Office on Trafficking in Persons. We operate a 24/7 national hotline that is available to serve survivors of human trafficking across the country.  The hotline serves four key functions:

First, we operate a confidential crisis and tip line which means we take calls directly from victims in human trafficking situations who need immediate help and we also take first, second, and third hand tips about where and how human trafficking is happening; 

Second, we act as a national resource and technical assistance center; and provide access to trainings, learning materials, and resources about what trafficking looks like and how you can build an effective response in your community, agency, or industry to combat it.

Third, we manage a national referral and response network to connect survivors to trauma informed services and providers across the country who can assist them;

And lastly we act as a centralized data hub on the issue of human trafficking – collecting data and information about every call, email, and online report and tracking trends from the nearly 200,000 signals we have received over the last 8.5 years. Through major technology partnerships with companies like Salesforce and Palantir – we have the ability to collect and visualize a huge amount of data.

We measure our impact by understanding the number of survivors and communities we serve. In 2008, 166 survivors of human trafficking called us for help. In 2015, that number was 3,506. Now roughly 1 in every 6 calls to the hotline is from a survivor.

We can say that this crime disproportionally affects people of color and marginalized communities of any kind like system involved youth, individuals with physical or cognitive disabilities, those with mental health disorders, those who have precarious immigration status, they range in age and socio-economic status but they share the common thread of vulnerability.

It is critical that we support a high functioning safety net for these victims. With layers of trauma woven together, it is imperative that service programs can identify these victims, connect them to trauma informed services, and ensure they have the space to recover and rebuild.

We know there are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there about human trafficking: 

Some people think only of sex trafficking, and ignore the very real, daily reality of labor trafficking that occurs in agricultural fields, in homes with domestic workers, in factories and food processing plants, in home healthcare and residential facilities, as well as dozens of other settings; 

Many only think of women and girls as victims, and forget about men and boys who are exploited; as well as members of the trans and other gender minority groups;

Many believe that it doesn’t happen here in the U.S., and that it only happens in developing countries but I can tell you that every year since the national hotline’s first full year of operation in 2008 – we have had documented cases of human trafficking in every single state and the District of Colombia.

This is a heat map that shows human trafficking cases that we have received in 2015 from all across the United States. Calls and cases are coming in from major cities and small towns, from rural communities and border areas.

As you would imagine, we see huge numbers of cases along the border – CA, TX, FL, and NY and our call volume does mirror population to some extent but we can also tell you that the more we publicize the hotline number the more we see cases coming out of Northern states up North like Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, and the deep South like Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. We’ve also had hundreds of cases in mid-sized cities like Tulsa, Duluth, Toledo, Chattanooga, Albuquerque, and Buffalo.

In January and February 2016, we received our highest ever monthly volume with more than 4,000 calls in a single month.

We are reaching people where they are and that might be a 14 year old runaway on the streets of Detroit who fled a violent home and then a violent pimp or 50 year old Mexican sheep herder in isolated fields in Wyoming.

You have our 2015 Statistics in your packet and I wanted to highlight a few trends:

In 2015, we received more calls about sex trafficking than labor trafficking. However we also field a huge # of calls from workers who are at risk and who are being exploited.  (4,136 cases vs. 721 cases)

Top sex trafficking venues were illicit massage businesses, hotel/motel based sex trafficking, residential brothels, and sexually oriented businesses.

Top types of labor trafficking included: domestic work, agriculture, traveling sales crews, restaurant/food service, and health/beauty services.

Victim Demographics were majority female; 2/3 adults to 1/3 minors; about 60% foreign nationals and 40% USC.

From 2013 – 2015 we’ve had over 220 cases involving unaccompanied children

The NHTRC has seen an increase in cases involving adults with cognitive disabilities. One of the biggest challenges we see in these cases is where the adult has "consented" (both in a sex and labor context) to his or her situation, but is clearly being abused and exploited by a 3rd party individual.

So what do we do and what can we provide?

Trafficking survivors have a wide variety of needs and the type of service referrals requested largely depends on where the trafficking survivor is in his or her recovery process. And, in addition to thinking about what requests are most common, it is important to look at access to services as also interconnected and in some cases mutually dependent,

One of the single most critical needs for survivors in access to Housing – emergency, short term and long term housing. Access to safe and stable housing generally is critical for survivors who have recently left their trafficking situations. 

The second key service is a bit of a catch all - Case Management.  Once basic needs like shelter are met, access to a case manager who can assist the survivor in understanding and connecting to available service options is vital.

This usually involves making the connection to a local anti-trafficking provider who can help to corral all services needed. This includes immediate access to medical or dental care; access to trauma-informed mental health services; assistance for dependents; document assistance for foreign nationals and US citizens to ensure access to benefits and many more vital services.

The 3rd is Legal advocacy - Many foreign national survivors have immigration related service needs. Working with a lawyer is often a common precursor to a survivor feeling comfortable reporting his or her trafficking situation to law enforcement. Other legal needs: child custody issues, representation for charges related to co-concurring crimes (drug use/ trafficking, prostitution), financial remedies.

The 4th is transitional and long term services: Survivors who may be more removed from their trafficking situation may have different needs and often call us to be connected with transitional / long term programs to help with job training, ESL classes, financial literacy, support with parenting, etc. Access to these types of services is vital to addressing many of the root causes which made a survivor vulnerable to trafficking in the first place.

Services and the service network are heavily dependent on who is calling in. If a case involves an unaccompanied child or intra-familial trafficking – there are certain referrals. If it involves the LGBTQ community we are building our referral base with sensitive, well trained providers; if it involves significant mental health or substance abuse issues that creates certain barriers; Serious mental illnesses (e.g. schizophrenia, DID etc.) increase an individual's vulnerability to trafficking and are commonly exploited by traffickers as a means of control, however, most anti-trafficking providers are not equip to meet the mental health needs of these individuals. Access to culturally / linguistically competent crisis response services is critical.

We measure our impact by understanding the number of survivors and communities we serve. In 2008, 166 survivors of human trafficking called us for help. In 2015, that number was 3,506. Now roughly 1 in every 6 calls to the hotline is from a survivor.

We can say that this crime disproportionally affects people of color and marginalized communities of any kind like system involved youth, individuals with physical or cognitive disabilities, those with mental health disorders, those who have precarious immigration status, they range in age and socio-economic status but they share the common thread of vulnerability.

It is critical that we support a high functioning safety net for these victims. With layers of trauma woven together, it is imperative that service programs can identify these victims, connect them to trauma informed services, and ensure they have the space to recover and rebuild.

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