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9 Surprising Facts about Human Trafficking in the U.S.

We live in a world that needs to see concrete numbers to legitimize an issue. Unfortunately, those numbers are difficult to come by—but here are the facts.


When discussing sex trafficking, there are three things that are not up for debate: Sex trafficking is a dehumanizing crime, it needs to end, and to make it stop permanently we need to fight the demand.

Easier said than done, right?

Human trafficking, child exploitation, and women’s organizations regularly campaign to stop the demand with perhaps the most famous slogan being #RealMenDontBuyGirls (an unintentionally shaming phrase, we might add). Awareness is raised, minds are changed, but trafficking still increases.

Related: By The Numbers: Is The Porn Industry Connected To Sex Trafficking?

We live in a world that needs to see concrete numbers to legitimize an issue. Unfortunately, since sex trafficking and sexual exploitation are underground businesses, those numbers are difficult to come by. But a lot of what we do know about the current state of the industry comes from survivors, and they have a lot to say about how porn was largely connected to or included in their trafficking or exploitation.

Here are just a few broad stats taken from this Business Insider report.

9 quick stats about sex trafficking today

1. Human trafficking wasn’t a federal crime in the US until 2000 when the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was passed.

Sources: Department of JusticeState Department

2. Since 2007, more than 63,300 cases of human trafficking in the US have been reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which receives an average of 150 calls per day. In 2019, there were 733 reported cases of pornography-related sex trafficking.

Source: Polaris Project, National Human Trafficking Hotline

3. The most human trafficking cases have been reported in California, Texas, and Florida, according to the hotline. Las Vegas is also a hot spot due to the city’s culture and high rates of homelessness. But every state in the US has reports of human trafficking.

Sources: Polaris ProjectAl Jazeera

4. It is estimated that between 18,000 and 20,000 victims are trafficked into the United States every year.

Source: Women’s Center

5. Children are more vulnerable to trafficking than adults. They’re easier to control, cheaper, and less likely to demand working conditions, researchers explain. Between 244,00 to 325,000 young people in the US are considered “at-risk” of sexual exploitation, and an estimated 199,000 incidents of sexual exploitation of minors occur each year in the United States. An estimated 60,000 to 100,000 children in the Philippines are involved in sex slavery rings.

Source: US Department of Health, Unicef

6. Children raised in the foster care or welfare systems are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Of the nearly 26,300 runaways reported to National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2019, 1 in 6 were likely victims of child sex trafficking, the NCMEC reported.

Source: Congressional Research Service, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

7. Native American women are at particular risk. In 2016, a reported 506 Native American women disappeared or were killed in American cities. In Phoenix, another of the top trafficking jurisdictions in the US, it was estimated that 40% of sex trafficking victims in 2015 were Native American.

Sources: Urban Indian Health InstituteThe New York TimesIndian Country Today

8. In 2016, after US Immigration and Customs arrested 2,000 human traffickers and identified 400 victims, airlines started training staff to spot signs of human traffickers. Some of the signs that someone is a victim are not being in control of their own boarding pass or money and if they seem “disoriented and lost.”

Source: Dallas NewsImmigrations and Customs Enforcement

9. As of 2017, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said 73% of 10,000 child sex trafficking reports it received per year involved ads from Backpage.

Source: Washington Post, U.S. Senate

Click here to read the full list of trafficking stats on BusinessInsider.com.

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

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Porn is part of trafficking, too

As you can see from above, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 was a major move in US legislation that identified different forms of human trafficking, set harsh criminal penalties for offenders, and provided support for victims.

The TVPA defines sex trafficking as a situation in which “a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.”

This definition allows for many different sex trafficking scenarios that may not get as much news coverage to be prosecuted. Those unfamiliar with this issue, may imagine the Hollywood situations, such as a girl or boy getting kidnapped in a foreign country, and then being chained and forced into prostitution. Or boys and girls from a foreign country smuggled into the US and similarly abused.

Related: Why Do Some People Fight Against Sex Trafficking But Unconditionally Support Porn?

These stories do exist. They are real, but they aren’t the only scenarios.

Because of the variety of circumstances in which sex trafficking occurs, there are many contributing causes subject to differences in cultures, economies, political influences, and legislation to name a few. For example, Europe has seen a rise in the sex trafficking of refugees whereas the child sex slavery industry has grown in the Philippines.

Issues of poverty and power are commonly intertwined in sex trafficking—not to mention porn.

Many porn consumers don’t know that more and more research points to porn as a fueling factor to the existing issue of human trafficking.

How porn affects the supply and demand for exploitation

Porn directly influences the supply and demand for sex trafficking. Studies have shown that exposure to porn can make a person less compassionate toward victims of sexual violence and exploitation, and consuming porn can increase a consumer’s desire to seek out and perform their fantasies by purchasing sex.

Related: Report: The US Is One Of The Biggest Consumers Of Sexual Exploitation In The World

Building on the consumer’s desire to act out what they’ve seen is the “training manual” connection, in which sex buyers have the person they’re purchasing sex from watch a video in preparation for a reenactment to fulfill porn-inspired fantasies. Ultimately a porn director’s fantasy becomes the reality of someone selling sex.

Of course, not only does porn influence the demand and behavior of sex trafficking and the purchase of commercial sex, the sad truth is that sometimes porn is a record that sex trafficking took place.

Click here to read more about how some mainstream porn is the recorded evidence of sex trafficking.

Consider all the facts before consuming

There is no easy call to action to end sex trafficking. Tackling this industry would need the full help of governments all over the world to enforce laws and protect the vulnerable, just to get started.

How do you kill an industry? Well, if no one wants to buy a product, then it doesn’t sell. Stopping the demand for sex trafficking starts with each one of us. If you hate the idea of sex trafficking, if it is shocking and horrible to you, then consider what millions of people visually consume around the world every day.

Related: How Sex Trafficking And Exploitation Blend In With Today’s Mainstream Porn

What do violent images of sex suggest or normalize, including in the trafficking world? Do those videos encourage objectification and sexualization of teen girls and minor exploitation?

And ultimately, does porn drive the demand for sex trafficking in direct and indirect ways? Hopefully, now you know the answer.

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