What is human trafficking? Human trafficking is a seriouscrime and violation of human rights, involving force, coercion, or fraud to exploit a person into slave labor or sexual exploitation.
Human trafficking can happen to people of all ages and genders and any race or religious background. Women are often used for sexual exploitation, while men are usually used for forced labor. It is believed that one in five human trafficking victims are children, exploited for begging, child pornography, or child labor.
According to the Bureau of Justice, of the human trafficking cases reported between January 2008 and June 2010, sex trafficking victims were more likely to be white (26%) or black (40%), compared to labor trafficking victims, who were more likely to be Hispanic (63%) or Asian (17%).
Victims frequently do not seek help due to language barriers, fear of their traffickers, or fear of law enforcement. Because human trafficking is considered a hidden crime, several key indicators can help people recognize potential endangerment and notify law enforcement. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has a list of indicators you can use to help identify victims. These indicators include:
- Appearing malnourished
- Appearing injured or having signs of physical abuse
- Avoiding eye contact, social interaction, and law enforcement
- Responding in manners that seem rehearsed or scripted
- Lacking personal identification documents
- Lacking personal possessions
A common misconception about human trafficking is that it does not happen in the United States. This is false, as the United States is ranked as one of the worst countries globally for human trafficking. It is estimated that 199,000 incidents occur in the United States every year.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline has one of the most extensive data sets on human trafficking in the United States collected through phone calls, texts, online chats, emails, and online tips received by the Hotline. While this information is some of the most comprehensive available, the data does not define the totality of human trafficking. The number of cases presented is only the cases that are reported.
The Human Trafficking Hotline serves victims and survivors of human trafficking across the United States. The Hotline is available 24/7, 365 days a year, and in more than 200 languages. The confidential Hotline helps any person of any age, religion, race, language, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. To contact the Hotline to report a tip, seek services, or ask for help, dial 1-888-373-7888. Hearing and speech-impaired individuals should dial 711. You can also send an SMS text to 233-733 or start a live chat on their website.
In 2020, the United States had 8,839 human trafficking cases reported. The most common type of trafficking was sex trafficking, with the most common venues being illicit massage/spa businesses and pornography.
States with the Highest Human Trafficking Numbers
California consistently has the highest human trafficking rates in the United States, with 1,334 cases reported in 2020. This is followed by Texas with 987 cases, Florida with 738 cases, and New York with 414 cases. These four states with the highest human trafficking rates have the highest populations in the U.S., which can explain why their numbers of cases are significantly higher than other states and have very high immigrant populations. This, combined with certain industries such as agriculture, creates prime environments for forced labor.
Looking at the rate per 100,000 people, Mississippi has the highest incidence rate of 6.31 per 100,000. Other states and territories with high rates of human trafficking include Nevada (5.99/100,000), Missouri (4.34/100,000), and the District of Columbia (4.14/100,000).
Rhode Island had both the lowest number of cases (10) and the lowest rate based on population (0.91/100,000) of human trafficking in 2020.