Human Trafficking: Key Statistics and Resources

Knowledge is power. Read about what human trafficking is really like in America, and what you can do as a citizen to join the fight to end it. 

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What is Human Trafficking?

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Human trafficking is a crime that occurs far too often in the world and in the United States. A common misconception is that human traffickers largely conduct business overseas, but the reality is that nearly 60,000 people are trafficked into the country every year, and the majority of those are females, trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Another common misconception is that human traffickers are kidnappers who drive large vans and swipe unassuming people from back alleys. Again, the reality, sadly, is far worse. Human traffickers operate in public, and will use all sorts of tools and tactics at their disposal to get what they want. These efforts often come in the form of psychological manipulation.

So how do these predators operate? And what are some of the purposes they are trafficking individuals for? See below for a better understanding of the different types of human trafficking.

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Human Trafficking Statistics

The average age of a child sex trafficking victim in the United States is 15

98% of victims in active criminal sex trafficking cases in 2020 were female 

83% of purchases of illicit sex happened online

What are the different types of human trafficking?

Common principles and concepts that apply to all forms of human trafficking, according to the U.S. State Department, are debt bondage, state-sponsored human trafficking and the unlawful recruitment or Use of Child Soldiers.

Domestic servitude and forced child labor are subsets of human trafficking under forced labor.

Child sex trafficking is a subset of trafficking under sex trafficking, and "familial trafficking" is a form of child sex trafficking where trafficking experiences are facilitated by family members and/or caregivers

icon of hotel

Human traffickers often make use of hotels or motels due to their privacy and constant flow of people on a day-to-day basis. Similar to other forms of human trafficking, these victims are typically immigrants without representation who work with no set pay or who have had their identification taken by their trafficker, who likely operates under the guise of an “employer.” But human trafficking in the hospitality industry is not limited to hotels or motels. Although these locations are common, service-based trafficking locations also include casinos or restaurants. In fact, if a place has a food service staff, concierge staff, or luggage staff, there is room for trafficking to occur since these labor-based jobs are all back-end and mostly out of sight.

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Types of Human Traffickers

Sadly, there are many industries that exploit individuals and coerce them into modern slavery of one form or another. While there are certainly methods of spotting a victim (if a hotel housekeeper is asking for tips, for example) the efforts and organization of these criminals is far-reaching. 

Human traffickers use sadistic methods to not only control an individual, but also to make passersby assume that nothing is wrong. For instance, if someone pays a woman for sex, they might feel that the act was consensual, not considering that this woman is in fact being exploited and that a trafficker is using means of control.

While there is no question that human trafficking is a complex issue and that traffickers use organized and even “intelligent” methods of control, the breakdown of how a trafficker operates can be broken down like this:

  • Target a victim: Connect to potential victims through various tools, such as social media, video gaming consoles, and chat rooms to name a few.
  • Scout for ideal characteristics: Discover what makes a victim most vulnerable, such as emotional neediness, low self-confidence, or economic stress.
  • Gain trust through manipulation: Obtain trust through conversations, or even send current victims to interact with newly targeted victims as scouts
  • Fill a need: Force victims into a dependent relationship through gifts, love, friendship, drugs, or alcohol.
  • Force isolation: Wedge themselves between the victim and those closest to them.
  • Maintain control through abusive behavior: Demand a service they offered must be repaid, likely through sex, and maintain control with threats, violence, fear, or blackmail.

Risk factors for human trafficking

Here are the biggest risk factors contributing to adult human trafficking:

When someone abuses substances and cannot get more of what they want, they become desperate and will do anything to get it. Many men and women turn to prostitution to earn money to support their habit. With human trafficking being a multi-billion dollar industry, the traffickers know where to look to find the vulnerable people they want.

Those who recently migrated to the United States are highly susceptible to adult human trafficking because they want to earn money but are unsure about the steps to take. They can easily be tricked into a bad opportunity that leads to labor and sex trafficking.

This applies to both adults and the youth. When someone’s home life is bad enough, they’ll do anything to avoid going back. Traffickers are able to identify this, they know what questions to ask, they’ll find out about your history and why you’re homeless. Once they know that the person is destitute, they’ll manipulate with fake opportunities and false promises.

Mental health is another factor that can lead adults into trafficking. Traffickers will prey on those who aren’t capable of taking care of themselves and trick them into believing that they’re providing a unique opportunity.

What is the difference between "human trafficking" and "human smuggling"?

Human Trafficking

Force, fraud, coercion and/or violence is used to recruit victims to be exploited for their acts of labor for profit.

The crime is against a person and their human rights.​

Victims do not have to be transported to be trafficked.

The trafficker continues their relationship with the victim as long as they can for maximum profit.

Human Smuggling

Victims must be transported across legal boundaries/borders for a crime to take place.

The crime being committed is against the country being entered for breaking immigration laws.

The criminal act requires movement across an international border.

The relationship with the smuggler ends once the person is moved across the border.

How are they related?

The smuggling of persons and the trafficking of persons is a very profitable crime.

Criminal networks are often involved in both crimes.​

Smuggling persons are at a higher risk of being trafficked.​

Unaccompanied smuggled children are more easily placed in situations of danger by smugglers and are more susceptible to exploitation. ​

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Frequently asked questions about Human Trafficking


According to Polaris, the most likely victims are recent migrants who followed a bad job offer or advertisement. This will likely take a lot of people by surprise. It’s commonly believed that sex trafficking is the biggest issue facing the country but it’s actually labor trafficking.

It’s believed that 12.3 million people are forced into labor and 2.4 million of those are the result of labor trafficking. As many as 17,500 people are brought into the United States through the labor trade to be forced into modern-day slavery.

America is considered one of the worst countries for adult human trafficking, with the top three being Mexico, the United States, and the Philippines.

The good news is, you can get involved. It starts with awareness of human trafficking and the severity of the situation. No matter what age the individual is, trafficking is a serious problem and something we take a lot of pride in working to prevent. You too can join the fight against human trafficking. Learn more today and help us make a difference!