Human Trafficking in the United States
In the United States, trafficking and exploitation takes place in both urban and rural areas. People of all genders, age, and race and sexual identity are impacted.
According to the Polaris Project there was a 25% jump in human trafficking cases from 2017 to 2019, with 23,078 survivors identified, 10,949 human trafficking cases, 5,859 potential traffickers, and 1,905 suspicious businesses (Polaris Project, n.d.a).
California is one of the largest sites of human trafficking in the United States. In 2018, there were 1,654 cases of human trafficking reported in California alone. Out of these cases, 1,229 were sex trafficking cases, 149 were labor trafficking cases, 110 involved both labor and sex trafficking, and in 166 cases, the type of trafficking was not specified (National Human Trafficking Hotline, n.d.a). Since 2007, there have been a total of 35,069 contacts made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline (phone calls, texts, online chats, emails, and webforms), with 10,016 cases in total.
It is often difficult to identify victims of trafficking because of frequent movement and lack of contact with social and other services. In addition to the challenge that service providers face when identifying human trafficking and other forms of exploitation, victims face various barriers to self-identification that include limited familial support, loyalty or traumatic attachment to traffickers, lack of resources, normalization of sex trafficking as survival on the streets, juvenile arrests for prostitution and treatment as criminals, fear and distrust of adults, and use or threat of violence from the trafficker or exploiter. In a 2018 survey of service providers administered by the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), 82% of service providers affirm that victims share with their agencies that they have concerns about contacting police, and 70% of service providers believe that victims have concerns about going to court for a matter relate to their abuser or the offender. This adversely impacts victims’ willingness to assert their legal rights.
Prostitution controlled by pimps characterizes the majority of U.S. sex trafficking cases. Trafficking also occurs at truck stops, massage parlors, residential brothels, escort agencies, and online. Victims of sex trafficking in the U.S. share common risk factors, including child sexual abuse, parental neglect, parental drug abuse, emotional and/or physical abuse by a family member, and poverty. Further risk factors include homelessness, drug, alcohol, and tobacco use, history of prior abuse or neglect, isolation, gang involvement, bad history with child welfare services, history of victimization, low self-esteem or a need for validation, and criminal history or current involvement in criminal activities.