Domestic Human Trafficking: A New Look at U.S Victims

A car drives away on a city street at night.

A new report from Washington anti-trafficking group Polaris uses information reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and the BeFree Textline to paint a picture of domestic human trafficking in the United States.

The main data comes from more than 1,600 sex trafficking cases reported in 2014. Polaris also analyzed accounts of 292 survivors who contacted the resource center or BeFree, and the organization collected supplemental data from 141 U.S. citizen sex trafficking survivors to whom it provided direct services between 2011 and 2014.

Here are some of Polaris’s findings:

  • Both adults and young people are vulnerable to trafficking. Underlying reasons some people may be more susceptible to being trafficked include limited economic opportunities, homelessness, lack of supportive housing, emotional instability, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health problems, and disabilities.
  • About 44% of survivors estimated that they were first trafficked at age 17 or younger, and the average age of participation was 19 years old. Based on this finding, the authors of the report say a controversial statistic suggesting that the age of entry for girls into prostitution is as young as 12 or 14 should be reconsidered.
  • Traffickers use control as their main way of manipulating victims and keeping them in constant fear and bondage. Control tactics include psychological manipulation, sexual abuse, isolation, and economic abuse.
  • Many victims had been in a relationship with, or even married to, the trafficker for several years before being forced to engage in commercial sex. Like victims of domestic violence, trafficking victims have an emotional bond to their controller that keeps them from seeking services.
  • The Internet plays a significant role in sex trafficking and is often the way traffickers first find and connect with victims. Most sex trafficking occurs in hotels or motels, but it can also happen on the streets, in strip clubs, at truck stops, and through escort services.

Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth, the Family and Youth Services Bureau, or the Administration for Children and Families.

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