What is human trafficking? Human trafficking is a serious crime and violation of human rights, involving the use of 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 to be 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 that 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 in the world for human trafficking. It is estimated that 199,000 incidents occur within 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 2019, the United States had 11,500 human trafficking cases reported. The most common type of trafficking was sex trafficking (8,248 reports), 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 1,507 cases reported in 2019. 1,118 of these cases were sex trafficking cases, 158 were labor trafficking, and 69 were both sex and labor. The remaining cases were not specified. Most of the sex trafficking cases reported in California were illicit massage and spa businesses and hotel or motel based. Of the cases reported, 1,290 were female, 149 were male, and 10 were gender minorities.
This is followed by Texas with 1,080 cases, Florida with 896 cases, and New York with 454 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, as well as very high immigrant populations. This combined with certain industries such as agriculture creates prime environments for forced labor.