This article will go over 13 facts about human trafficking in the US, one of the most heinous crimes facing our world today. If you or a loved one were a victim of this despicable crime, contact a human trafficking attorney at Babin Law, LLC to see how we can help.
Human trafficking is an ongoing problem worldwide, with almost 40.3 million people around the world living as enslaved people, according to the Global Slavery Index.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, that's not surprising when you consider that there are currently more than 84 million displaced people in the world, and many of them might fall victim to traffickers looking to profit off their misfortune by selling them into involuntary servitude or indentured servitude.
Human trafficking in the US may not be an issue that most Americans like to think about, but it's much more common than you might realize.
The U.S. State Department estimates the national average stands between 14,500–17,500 domestic victims are trafficked throughout the United States every year, and many more are trafficked around the world and across international borders. The most affected groups are minorities including but not limited to Native Americans and citizens from Central America.
Unfortunately, many people don't know about the full scope of human trafficking in the US; we have compiled 13 facts about human trafficking in the US that will shock you into taking action against this horrific crime.
All 50 States Have Human Trafficking
The law passed in 2000 that makes human trafficking a federal crime only applies to interstate and international situations. In other words, it only applies to kidnappings or abductions that cross state lines.
As such, all 50 states currently have some form of human trafficking occurring within their borders. California, which is known for its seedy underbelly and lenient laws against prostitution, is ranked as having one of the highest instances of human trafficking out of any state in America. It is followed closely by Rhode Island.
Though it's commonly associated with sex work, labor trafficking can be just as common as sexual exploitation; many victims are lured into involuntary servitude through the promise of employment or aid in getting legal status in America.
These numbers may be higher in other states, but because of the low numbers of reported and investigated cases, it's hard to say for sure. It also makes the identification of victims difficult.
The Number of Prosecutions of Human Traffickers Is Alarmingly Low
Because of how difficult it is to catch traffickers; most are not even prosecuted. According to Human Rights Watch and the criminal justice reports, for every 100 cases of human trafficking in the US identified by police in one year, there were just 17 arrests and six convictions.
In some states, that number was even lower. It's hard to understand why so few cases end up going through prosecution when you look at statistics like these: Between 2007 and 2016, there were more than 9,000 convictions for sex trafficking-related offenses (including everything from purchasing sex to compelling or coercing another person into prostitution).
That's an average of nearly 1,000 a year—not even counting arrests that don't result in filed charges or prosecutions underway. Unfortunately, there are many reasons why these numbers are so low. For one thing, sex traffickers tend to be extremely careful and can fly under law enforcement's radar for years at a time without getting caught.
Human Trafficking Is Big Business
Human Trafficking is a billion-dollar business, and it's happening right here at home. Human trafficking is different from other crimes. It's a modern-day form of slavery. According to the United States Department of State, on average, 14,500 people are trafficked into forced labor each year; most are women and girls.
Human trafficking happens every 11 minutes in America and often goes unnoticed because many domestic victims don't see themselves as victims. Many may feel they have no other option than being controlled by their traffickers to make ends meet or repay debts with little to no access to help or resources.
It has been reported that after arrest, over 70% of victims return to sex trafficking within 72 hours simply because there aren't many options for them once they're released from jail or prison.
According to recent estimates, human trafficking is a $99.5 billion industry worldwide, making it more profitable than illegal arms sales and drug smuggling. The U.S. Department of Justice says there are hundreds of thousands of child sex slaves in America today from different states and neighboring countries like Canada and Central America.
A 2014 breakdown saw this evil broken down into different parts bringing the exact worth of human trafficking to $99 billion from the commercial sexual exploitation of women, men, and minor victims of all ages.
99% of Human Trafficking Victims Are Women and Girls
It may not come as a surprise, but more women and girls are involved in human trafficking than men. Many victims of sex trafficking will look no different from anyone else on your street or at your job.
It is estimated that 40% of sex trafficking victims are children and adolescent girls, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Since 2000, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has assisted law enforcement with more than 20,000 cases of missing minor victims—an average of more than 60 per day—and reports that 25% of them were likely trafficked into commercial sexual exploitation within 48 hours of leaving home.
Many adults fall victim to sex trafficking, though most commonly, they're coerced into working as prostitutes. In 2016, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported that 5,103 potential victims of sex trafficking were identified and rescued by law enforcement.
Of those cases, only 1,077 suspects were arrested. This is likely because many cases of human trafficking are difficult to identify since they can be disguised as smuggling or a legitimate job offer.
Also, because traffickers prey on those desperate for work and money, people who willingly enter these arrangements may feel they have no way out once they realize what has happened to them.
There Is No Official Estimate of Sex Trafficking Victims in The United States
To date, there are no exact official statistics on how many people are trafficked into or within America. The government currently relies on data from non-profits and victim service providers, which use their definitions and methods to estimate victim numbers.
The United States government estimates of human trafficking victims do not include women, men, and minor victims forced into labor or commercial sex against their will. There is no official estimate for how many American citizens have been trafficked inside their own country.
The Department of Justice reports that it is working on improved ways to identify victims of human trafficking and track their cases through investigations and prosecutions. As well as victim service providers.
Unfortunately, since human trafficking continues to be a hidden crime in many parts of our country, we may never know exactly how many people are trapped in modern-day incidents of slavery—or how prevalent human trafficking in the US really is.
Events Like the Super Bowl Increasingly Are Monitored for Sex Trafficking
Events like the Super Bowl draw huge crowds, and sex traffickers see them as prime selling opportunities. As many as 10,000 women are brought in to work as prostitutes during a major sporting event such as the Super Bowl.
To cut down on sex trafficking during these events, law enforcement and other organizations typically monitor locations where sex is bought and sold. When trying to decrease sex trafficking during a large event, authorities should be stationed near high-traffic areas such as highways and hotels known to house prostitutes.
Besides sporting events, large concerts are also known to attract sex traffickers and prostitutes. Concerts like Coachella and Burning Man have been criticized because they're often magnets for sex trafficking during their large gatherings.
In an effect to reduce human trafficking in the US, local police departments have also begun to collaborate to crack down on sex traffickers. For example, authorities have teamed up with hotels near major events and monitor their employee records to ensure that they are legitimate. These steps can help identify potential traffickers and keep them out of a given area during an event.
Victims Are Still Arrested for Crimes They Were Forced to Commit by Traffickers
Human trafficking is, by definition, a form of involuntary servitude. No matter what criminal activities victims may have engaged in at the behest of their trafficker, it is often hard for them to shake off that label and convince authorities that they were forced into these situations.
Domestic and international trafficking victims are routinely arrested and prosecuted for crimes that they were forced to commit under duress. These arrests and convictions can permanently blight their records—making it even harder for them to escape their traffickers' clutches.
This practice is known as victim-blaming, and it's not an isolated phenomenon. In most cases, police don't even know what to look for when investigating cases of human trafficking. According to a report by popular news, a total national average of 292 potential sex or labor victims trafficking were arrested and charged with crimes committed as a result of being trafficked in 2017.
This comes out to one charge per every five actual victims found. However, as awareness increases around what to look for, arrests like these should be decreasing – but they aren't. Victim-blaming may be on the rise.
Child Sexual Traffickers Prey on Vulnerable Children - Especially Runaways
According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Justice, minors who run away from home are at a higher risk of being trafficked for sex. Law enforcement officers and social workers say that pimps often use fake romantic relationships with runaway girls as a way to lure them into prostitution - and once they're involved, it's difficult for these victims to escape their pimp's grasp.
FBI statistics reveal that three out of four girls involved in the prostitution of children were initially lured through false promises. They can be anyone. A study published in The New York Times found that nearly two-thirds of sex-trafficking victims reported having an abusive relationship with their trafficker prior to becoming part of an organized crime ring—and sometimes even trusted family members or friends were involved!
Sadly, adolescent girls are vulnerable to traffickers because many runaways lack a strong support system. They can be outcasts from their family, have unsupportive foster parents or live on the streets with no food or shelter. Experts believe that more than half of all homeless youth in America become victims of sexual exploitation by age 24.
It's important to remember that these minor victims need help rather than punishment. There are plenty of organizations and agencies ready to provide them with a safe home environment where they can heal emotionally and physically.
Victims Typically Don't Trust Law Enforcement Officers
Many of those who are trafficked, especially minor victims of sexual exploitation, don't trust law enforcement officers. Many have been lied to by those they thought were friends or family and may be fearful that even if someone does want to help them escape their circumstances, that help won't last for long.
Many victims experience violence at the hands of police officers themselves when they seek help from authorities and hence suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Even well-meaning officials can perpetuate victimization because they're not familiar with laws around sex trafficking or even how to spot potential victims.
International trafficking victims and domestic victims are also at risk of being arrested and prosecuted for crimes they didn't commit. While it's not intended, officers often don't understand how sex work or other types of labor might be voluntary or involuntary, instead of believing that anyone who sells sex must be a victim of sexual exploitation.
This means victims may refuse to speak to law enforcement when they're offered help, which only serves to make it harder for them to escape their conditions of victimization. There are ways around these issues, but it's important to have police on your side and understand what helps victims (and what harms them). The help offered should be healing practices that include behavioral therapies and trauma therapy.
Victims Are Also Foreign
One of every five victims of human trafficking in the US is domestic and the rest are international victims. The domestic victims largely comprise Native Americans and African Americans.
Many traffickers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as they were trafficked as minor victims themselves or have been involved in other types of crime. Traffickers can earn $150,000 to $200,000 annually per trafficked victim if they can resell them into sexual slavery once they've reached their destination.
International trafficking victims do not typically believe they will be harmed by coming to America from other countries including Central America. Many come here hoping for a better life and willingly accept job offers that turn out to be exploitative. In other cases, traffickers prey on people who are already vulnerable due to past trauma or sexual abuse.
Human traffickers often target immigrants who may have had bad experiences with law enforcement or who don't speak English well and therefore can't navigate their way through complex systems such as social services or legal aid. Traffickers also prey on people who are new to a community, whether they are recent immigrants or tourists.
The average age of entry into prostitution for children is 13 years old—and once someone is trafficked, it's difficult for them to get out. Traffickers use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage, and other means to control victims. Many victims develop Stockholm syndrome—identifying with their captors and believing that they cannot escape because they owe money to those holding them captive.
There is No Single Look for a Victim of Human Trafficking
Contrary to popular belief, a victim of human trafficking can come from any background and be from any ethnicity. It's also important to note that sex is not always part of a forced labor scenario.
Often, workers are being held against their will because they have been deceived into working for low wages or paying off a debt that they will never be able to pay off.
Human traffickers prey on those who are most vulnerable—which often means international trafficking victims are job seekers with little to no knowledge of United States laws or language barriers. Also, some workers aren't victims at all but instead make decisions of their own volition.
They often hold workers' passports and visas or use violence to keep them in check. Often, when a worker has managed to escape their captor, they fear deportation and choose not to go through with it. They're told that they were trafficked into America illegally and needed to pay off their debt or risk being deported back home without getting paid.
It's Almost Impossible to Tell If Someone Is Being Trafficked
Many of us believe that we can spot a victim if they are standing right in front of us. The truth is, the identification of victims is often difficult. Victims are often brainwashed into believing that their traffickers are their only source of happiness and may be physically threatened or isolated from family and friends who could help them leave.
Of course, there are certain situations when signs of human trafficking are obvious, such as sexual exploitation or mass-scale illegal labor (such as migrant work). But most cases don't involve overt displays of abuse—or any physical evidence.
Traffickers use threats of violence and manipulation to control victims; they have no reason to maintain their power over them by abusing them physically. This is why most trafficked people are not visibly injured or bruised, even if they've been abused for years.
Victims who show signs of physical abuse—like scars or bruises—are often considered throwaways because law enforcement doesn't believe that anyone would choose to stay with a trafficker if they were being treated poorly.
If you're concerned that someone might be a victim of human trafficking, don't ask them if they're being abused or look for visible signs of physical and sexual abuse (you could make them feel like they're lying). Instead, take time to get to know them as a person and see how they interact with others. Identification of victims is dangerous to both you and the victim.
Pornography Affects the Supply and Demand for Human Trafficking in the US
Studies show that those who look at pornography are more likely to support or condone acts of sexual violence. Pornography normalizes violent sex and desensitizes users to it.
It also creates an unrealistic expectation of sex, which is never as exciting or dangerous as it appears in porn—and then users can become disillusioned with their partners' bodies, leading them to view sex workers as having a superior product. This demand for more exciting products then drives the exploitation and human trafficking in the US.
In addition, researchers suggest that pornography leads to greater victimization of women and minor victims through prostitution and pedophilia because pornography diminishes empathy for victims. We need to stop looking at pornography as a harmless activity and recognize it as an industry that exploits vulnerable people—often minors—for profit.
How To Identify Human Trafficking in the US
Human trafficking in the US is one of the fastest-growing criminal industries, and it's everywhere, from big cities to small towns to backroads in the middle of nowhere.
It's hard to tell when you're looking at it, but there are signs you can look out for that might indicate human trafficking activity.
If you see people who seem trapped and afraid or who don't seem to be free to leave an area or situation, these may be signs that they're being trafficked against their will somehow. Make sure you can make the identification of victims discreet so as not to endanger them.
Here are some signs you may be witnessing human trafficking—pay attention to them, and report what you see to the police or to victim service providers!
- Answers Appear to Be Scripted and Rehearsed
Take note if an employee or young person cannot talk about a favorite subject or if they seem scripted, rehearsed, and guarded when talking. They might avoid eye contact with you or seem uncertain about how much information to share.
Dig deeper if you notice any of these signs with a friend, family member, co-worker, or neighbor. Asking simple questions like what you think about XYZ can often yield responses that reveal more about someone's situation than what they may say directly.
- Employer Is Holding Identity Documents
If an employer has taken their domestic worker's passport or work visa, that is a red flag. It is illegal to do so in most situations, but it could indicate that the employer has ill intentions and may be involved in human trafficking.
Employers should keep employee documents separate from their files. If they ask you for any of these items as part of their employment process, you may want to consider taking legal action against them.
- Inability To Speak to the Individual Alone
This can signify that an individual is being forced to have sex against their will. Individuals forced into sex trafficking may not speak to you directly, but they might gesture and nod toward another person in what seems like an innocent conversation. This is a power play and outright abuse of power.
In reality, that person may be forcing them to converse with you for your benefit or theirs. If someone is being forced into a situation and does not want to participate.
They will often look extremely uncomfortable, as if something else is going on around them other than what you are talking about. They will feel nervous and scared because of how their trafficker or pimp treats them as most of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Multiple People in Cramped Space
If you see more than one person in a small, cramped space with poor ventilation, they may be victims of trafficking. Victims are forced to live in these conditions, sleep on floors or couches, and take up all of a room's furniture
Locking doors at strange hours is also a sign. If someone locks doors—or multiple doors—at odd hours of the night when there is no one else around, something might be wrong. Victims are often kept against their will and don't have access to a phone or computer so they can't leave undetected.
- Poor Living Conditions
A human trafficking victim could be living in a home or apartment that is very small with many other people, forming a sort of labor camp environment. For example, eight people in a two-bedroom apartment may look normal to someone unfamiliar with these situations.
The victim will likely share a room and possibly even a bed with other victims. An individual may live in an old, dirty basement or attic rather than a bedroom; it's important to consider that these homes could not accommodate all of those who live there because they are not suitable for permanent residence.
If you think about it logically, if an average person lived in such conditions for any length of time, they would leave—yet victims stay put because of physical violence or threats from their trafficker.
- Signs Of Physical Abuse
If minor trafficking victims have unexplained burns, bruises, broken bones, or other injuries, they could be signs of human trafficking. Similarly, minor victims who avoid doctors may be afraid to say how they were injured. Adults are usually more difficult to identify as victims because they are often controlled by their trafficker and will do anything their trafficker asks them to do without question.
Physical signs that someone is a victim of human trafficking might include poor personal hygiene or being malnourished and tired. An adult may not seem to have control over their own life, including not knowing where they live and not having control over their money. Sexual abuse and involuntary alcohol abuse are signs you need to look out for.
- Submissive Or Fearful
One of the easiest ways to identify potential human trafficking is to look for signs of submission and fear. In many cases, young girls being trafficked will display submissive behaviors, including an inability to make eye contact or facial expressions that express sadness.
While you might assume that these girls are simply shy, ask yourself whether a girl who is supposed to be happy about her modeling job looks as if she's in pain. It could be a red flag if someone doesn't appear comfortable in their own skin (or place of business).
- Under 18 And in Prostitution
The statistics on minor trafficking victims are chilling. The International Labor Organization estimates that 2.4 million minor trafficking victims are trafficked labor victims, commercial sexual exploitation, and other purposes each year.
Many of these minor trafficking victims have been lured from their homes through false promises, threats, or manipulation. If you think a child is being exploited in any way, call and report your concern to 911 if it is an emergency situation.
Be prepared with specific information so that law enforcement can quickly and effectively help protect victims and hold perpetrators accountable.
- Unpaid Or Paid Very Little
If you suspect that a person isn't getting paid, question them. For example, if someone is selling products or performing manual labor, ask what they are being paid to do so. If they say nothing (or next to nothing), something might be wrong.
According to The National Human Trafficking Resource Center, in most cases of human trafficking, people don't get paid at all or aren't compensated sufficiently for their work. However, if someone says they are volunteering and working for free—especially if you see no signs of force or fear—they may not be labor victims and there is no cause for concern.
Where To Report Cases of Human Trafficking in the US
Call 911 and contact local law enforcement. This is an emergency, and authorities need to be notified immediately about existing and potential victims.
If you do not feel comfortable approaching law enforcement, locate your nearest women's shelter or crisis center in your area and contact them immediately. You can also approach victim service providers. These groups are familiar with human trafficking in the US and have been trained on how to help those who have experienced it.
There are also national hotlines to report human trafficking in the US, including Polaris Project and Not for Sale. These organizations can be reached through their respective hotlines and help coordinate aid between law enforcement, social services, shelters, and community groups.
They are able to provide detailed information on how to proceed with a report or can tell you where to find more resources in your area. Don't hesitate to contact these hotlines with any questions about your specific situation or other concerns you may have about human trafficking.
Here is a list of hotlines to contact in the case of human trafficking in the US:
- National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888
- United States Department of Homeland Security at 1-866-347-2423
- United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) 1-802-872-6199
- Call your local FBI office (you can get their number at https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/field-offices
- Contact the United States Department's Diplomatic Security Service at TraffickingTips@state.gov
- The National Center for Missing And Exploited Children, at 1-800-THE-LOSTor cybertipline.com
- Contact Inter-Agency Council against Trafficking (IACAT) using 1343
While many would like to believe that it doesn't happen in North America, human trafficking in the US is all too common. Fortunately, you can be an active participant in combating human trafficking by learning how to identify it and call for help when you see it.
The public awareness campaign and the nationwide campaign against slavery, human trafficking, prostitution of children, and torture victims should no longer be considered to be "just" another campaign. It should be followed up with solutions for the survivors and those looking to leave.
These solutions should be promising practices formed using the right assessment tool. They should include behavioral therapies, child protective initiatives, trauma therapy, and a teen prostitution prevention project. These solutions can and should be implemented by the respective parties.
These include the American Psychological Association, outreach workers, adolescent substance abuse treatment centers, the Child Labor Coalition, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Department Of State. These solutions should also factor in the sex worker category.