« Back to Blog

Representing the True Diversity of Survivors

The National Survivor Study (NSS) is premised on the reality that you cannot change what you do not truly understand – and you cannot truly understand trafficking through studies that treat survivors solely as research subjects. Instead, this scientifically rigorous project flips the traditional dynamics of social science research on its head, working with survivors as true partners in every step along the way – from research design to recruitment, data collection and analysis. Our survivor partners collaborated with ally partners to decide what aspects of trafficking to study, how to ask the right questions and when it’s over, they will help understand the results. 

We have all seen the awareness flyers; the fundraising appeals; the well-meaning but misguided materials that suggest human trafficking survivors are primarily, young, white, cisgender females. And we all know better. 

We know that human trafficking victims are sometimes white cis females. But they are also men and boys, cisgender, non-binary and transgender. They identify as LGBTQ+ and otherwise. They are from indigenous communities and they are immigrants. They are Black, Latino, and of Middle Eastern and Asian descent. They are from the United States, Asia, Latin America, Africa and everywhere else. They speak and read English and they don’t. Exactly who gets trafficked in this country is one of the things we still don’t truly understand, but we know that many survivors are underrepresented in research on human trafficking. 

Breakdown on Current Participants

The NSS is being conducted in English, Mandarin, and Spanish to increase access to underrepresented communities. As of October 28, 2021, we have had 291 eligible participants that have expressed willingness to participate in the qualitative study. Survivors come from a wide variety of states with around 80% of the 50 states represented and the majority coming from Texas, California, and Florida.  

We have a pretty even distribution of age, those who are financially responsible for another person and the types of areas participants currently live in. 

However, we recognize that most of our outreach has been with survivors who are connected to services and organizations. We are hoping to involve survivors who may not be connected to typical organizations through outreach from other survivors. 

We are also lacking other groups such as males, those who were labor trafficked, and those who are a gender minority. For example, only 2 percent of the sample identify themselves as transgender. Additionally, while the majority of participants (94 percent) reported either being sex trafficked or reported being trafficked for sex and labor, with sex trafficking indicators being the predominant aspect of their exploitation, only 5 percent of survivors reported being trafficked only for labor. While the labor trafficking experiences of those who have also been sex trafficked are important, it is also critical to have a deep understanding of those who have been trafficked for labor only, as this population is traditionally most often excluded from research.

This disparity between labor trafficking and sex trafficking in our respondents may also explain the low responses for other groups like male survivors (4 percent), Spanish speaking survivors (1 percent), Mandarin speaking survivors (1 percent), and immigrants (9 percent), which may be more represented in those who have experienced labor trafficking. It is important to have the input and experiences of labor trafficking survivors represented in our study as labor trafficking is underreported, underresearched, and many resources neglect labor trafficking survivors. It is critical that we are able to have labor trafficking survivors’ involvement to enact change that better serves their needs. 

If you have more questions about the current breakdown of the data for the National Survivor Study, please email for more information. 

We Need Your Help To Change This 

The National Survivor Study has already started recruiting participants for the study and has started conducting focus group discussions with interested individuals. In addition, we will begin administering a survey in the next few weeks in English, Mandarin and Spanish. We have reached hundreds of people already but we are still working to make sure we reach and learn from the full diversity of people who have experienced human trafficking. We are particularly interested in underrepresented groups including: 

  • Labor trafficking survivors
  • Immigrants
  • Male survivors
  • Transgender or other gender minorities
  • Mandarin speakers
  • Spanish speakers  

If you are a survivor we need your participation and help reaching out to other survivors you know (if you reach out to an individual, and they are eligible, give them the code you receive when you take the eligibility screener and you will be entered to win one of fifteen raffle prizes of $125 cash each). 

If you are an organization that serves any of the underrepresented populations discussed here, please reach out to us as we have social media posts, fact sheets, and other materials that we could send you to hopefully engage the survivors you work with. We would also love any input you could provide on how to better reach the population you serve. 

If neither of these apply to you, but you’d like to support work that puts survivors’ experiences at the center of anti trafficking efforts, please consider a gift to Polaris. The generous support of our donors and partners makes it possible to continue this kind of important, innovative work.

We are grateful for your help. This can only happen with your support.


More Blog Posts

Need help? Polaris operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline.