Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. For 15 years, Polaris has never turned off the lights on the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline — the country’s lifeline for victims and survivors of sex and labor trafficking.
A call might come from an aspiring actress who accepts a modeling job that turns out to be prostitution. Or from a father of three forced to work 12-hour days with no breaks and no pay. Or a caring neighbor who has noticed the way the housekeeper next door is mistreated. When they contact the Trafficking Hotline, Polaris connects them to local services, helps with safety planning, and assists with reporting to law enforcement if desired.
Beyond meeting immediate needs, the Trafficking Hotline also serves as the largest source of data on trafficking in North America, enabling us to observe trends, improve practices, and advocate for needed resources and system changes. This function is at the core of anti-trafficking response, not only for Polaris but for the entire field.
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As we celebrate the Trafficking Hotline’s anniversary this December and look forward to a new year ahead, here are 15 milestones to mark 15 years of keeping the lights on for victims and survivors.
- Polaris launches the Trafficking Hotline in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2007) Today, the Trafficking Hotline works with more than 3,000 service providers, reporting contacts, and other organizations in its Reporting and Referral Database to make sure victims and survivors get the help they need.
- Polaris answers an average of 479 calls per month in the Trafficking Hotline’s first full year of operation. (2008)
- Because texting is a more discreet way for victims to safely contact the Trafficking Hotline, Polaris adds SMS capability through the BeFree textline. (2013) Since then, texting has grown exponentially, especially among youth: From 2019 to 2020, the percentage of texts from potential victims under 18 more than doubled.
- Using data from the first five years of the Trafficking Hotline, Polaris publishes “Human Trafficking Trends in the United States: National Human Trafficking Resource Center 2007–2012,” advancing a data-driven understanding of the crime. (2013)
- To support the international safety net, Polaris launches the Global Modern Slavery Directory (GMSD), listing 770+ organizations addressing modern slavery and human trafficking around the globe. (2014) Since then, the site has grown to 2,600+ listings and become the primary resource for international cases on the Trafficking Hotline.
- Responding to the needs of victims and survivors, Polaris establishes partnerships with transportation and hospitality companies to provide ride shares, flights, and short-term hotel stays to offer emergency support to those leaving situations of trafficking or pursuing their recovery. (2014)
- In partnership with Consejo Ciudadano, Polaris helps stand up Mexico’s first national human trafficking hotline. (2015) Polaris continues to support Consejo and has advised 15 other countries, such as the UK, Canada, and South Africa, in launching or strengthening their own trafficking hotlines.
- Analyzing more than 32,000 cases from the Trafficking Hotline, Polaris publishes “The Typology of Modern Slavery,” a first-of-its-kind classification system that identifies 25 main types of human trafficking in the U.S. (2017)
- Polaris hires a survivor leader to conduct a survivor-centered evaluation of the Trafficking Hotline and provide recommendations for improving, which Polaris starts to implement. (2017) Survivor leadership continues to be a key priority for the Trafficking Hotline and Polaris overall.
- Polaris publishes “Human Trafficking on Temporary Work Visas: A Data Analysis: 2015-2017,” using Trafficking Hotline data to identify nearly 800 trafficking victims holding guest worker visas. (2018) Polaris has since updated this report for 2022, identifying nearly 4,000 such victims.
- Collaborating with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Polaris analyzes 10 years of Trafficking Hotline data in “Human Trafficking at Home: Labor Trafficking of Domestic Workers” to inform recommendations for protecting workers at risk of exploitation. (2019)
- Given trafficking’s reliance on financial services, Polaris launches the Financial Intelligence Unit to leverage Trafficking Hotline and other data in equipping financial industry and law enforcement partners to disrupt situations of trafficking. (2020)
- Strengthening the three-way partnership that makes up the North American Safety Net, Polaris hosts the first trilateral North American Human Trafficking Hotlines Summit with Consejo Ciudadano and The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking. (2020) This collaboration is vital for coordinating cases across borders when any of the three hotlines receives a contact.
- As the COVID-19 pandemic overtakes the world, Polaris rises to the challenge, shifting the Trafficking Hotline to remote operations (2020) and sharing eye-opening data about trafficking trends during lockdowns. (2021)
- Since launch, the Trafficking Hotline has handled hundreds of thousands of contacts. The latest monthly statistics show more than 17,000 total contacts via call, text, webchat, email, and online tip form — 35 times as many as its first year. (2022)
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The National Human Trafficking Hotline is supported by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) of the United States (U.S.) Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $4.5 million with 78% funded by ACF/HHS and $1.3 million and 22% funded by non-government source(s). The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACF/HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit the ACF website, Administrative and National Policy Requirements: https://www.acf.hhs.gov/administrative-and-national-policy-requirements#chapter-8.