News & Politics

What Is the Most Common Way People Are Lured into Sex Trafficking? New Study Shows Surprising Trends

A national hotline has reported more than 9,000 cases of human trafficking over the past five years.

Human trafficking is a serious problem in the United States that is complex and frequently misunderstood. The sensationalist trafficking narrative commonly depicted in the media and by activists has been fraught with exaggerated data and themes, which has often detracted from potential remedies.

A new report released Wednesday by the Polaris Project helps to humanize the issue by providing a stark look into human trafficking trends in the United States, revealing that modern-day slavery is more prevalent in everyday life than most people realize.

The study reveals that 9,298 cases of human trafficking have been reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), a 24-hour national hotline call center servicing the United States for the last five years.  

The data was collected from the NHTRC between Dec. 7, 2007 and Dec. 31, 2012 based on 49,000 substantive hotline calls, 1,735 online tip reports and over 5,000 emails.

According to Bradley Myles, CEO of the Polaris Project, the goal of the report was to identify trends, challenges and practices to respond effectively to this emerging phenomenon.

“It’s a very common challenge in fighting against human trafficking to obtain good data. The field has a constant need for better data. This report is a really important milestone because it is the first time in releasing five years worth of data in the national hotline, which maintains one of the most extensive data sets on the issue of human trafficking in the United States,” he said.

The report also documented a 259 percent increase in calls to the NHTRC between 2008 and 2012 and more than 72,000 interactions. Such extensive growth in the number of calls can be attributed to the increase in public awareness of the issue of human trafficking and of the hotline itself over the last couple of years.

“There has been a coordinated effort from the media, government, entertainment industry, non-profit sector and state-based initiatives to put this hotline number out all over the country so that the power of individual community experiences can be channeled into one place which can function as a central hub to build this centralized data collection and information clearing-house. Our report is a reflection of that recipe,” Myles said.

While many of the calls have been referrals and tips from third parties such as enforcement agencies reporting suspected trafficking cases, 1,488 of the calls came from individual victims of trafficking who contacted the hotline asking for help. Myles says this is a profound development.

“In so many different times of slavery in the past people weren’t able to pick up the phone and say 'help me,' but now with cell phones, GPS, smart phones, 4G wireless we can really leverage modern technology and put it to good use by creating lifelines for victims. Fast-forward to the present day and we have seen a major increase in calls from survivors which as of October 31, 2013, stands at 4,833 survivor calls," he said.

The report unearths some interesting statistics with regard to pimp-controlled sex trafficking situations. Of the 5,932 cases of sex trafficking, 42 percent were in a pimp-controlled situation, with over 40 percent of victims minors or under 18 years of age. Recruitment occurred mostly socially through a friend (32 percent of cases),with homeless shelters, rehab facilities and foster homes the next most common places for recruitment.

The most common methods pimps used to recruit victims was to show romantic interest by acting as a boyfriend or girlfriend or intimate partner (51 percent of cases) or posing as a benefactor and offering necessities such as food (17 percent). While the narrative of abduction is popular in the media, forced abductions only accounted for a small percent of documented trafficking situations.

The breadth of different types of labor trafficking in the United States involving domestic workers forced into labor was astounding. Victims originated from some 74 different countries, illustrating that trafficking is not concentrated in one particular route or centralized.

Other key findings of the report:

  • Of the 9,298 unique case of human trafficking, 44 percent of cases identified "high-level indicators" representing cases, which include elements of force, fraud or coercion and a direct reference to commercial sex or labor trafficking.
  • States with the highest human trafficking levels in descending order are California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois.
  • 64 percent of all callers were victims of sex trafficking, while 22 percent were subject to labor trafficking, with 3 percent involving both (statistics non-cumulative).
  • Labor trafficking was most frequently reported in domestic work, restaurants, peddling rings and sales crews.
  • NHTRC also responded to an additional 4,167 reports of exploitive labor practices.
  • 74 percent of child trafficking cases involved sex trafficking.

The mission of the report is to provide human trafficking survivors with access to critical support and services in the hope that unveiling such findings will align public perception with the realities of human trafficking to keep this discussion at the forefront.

“The common narrative we have all been taught is that slavery is abolished and it doesn’t exist anymore in the United States and we have to somehow move past that as a society by correcting that disconnect which is that people are not fully aware of the reality. The analysis shows that we have reports of human trafficking cases in every state across the country and more concrete data about trends and patterns of types of trafficking that is recurring in different places. Instead of looking at a broad single national estimate, we hope to break down the data into its bite-size pieces and strategize how to respond. It’s a human rights issue and as a society we need to be keep talking about it," Myles said.

The NHTRC hotline number is 1-888-373-7888 and is available to answer calls from anywhere in the country 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year.

Jodie Gummow is a senior fellow and staff writer at AlterNet.