National Survivor Study

For more than a decade, through operation of the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, Polaris has built, used and shared the largest known data set on trafficking in North America. This pioneering work is now being expanded and deepened through the National Survivor Study (NSS), a scientifically rigorous research project designed to illuminate how trafficking really works, so we can sharpen the tools to end it. Unlike traditional research studies done on a community, the Survivor Study will be directed with paid, active guidance and participation of the affected community – survivors who are themselves the experts on their own experience.

Join the Conversation

The first step in Polaris’s National Survivor Study is understanding what kind of information would be most helpful to advancing the work of the anti trafficking field. To ensure that the anti trafficking community has influence and investment in this process, we are inviting partners to join the conversation by responding to two short surveys. Responses to the first survey will be analyzed and sent back anonymously in the form of a second survey. The results of both surveys will help inform the research focus of the study. All participants’ information will be kept confidential. To learn more about this phase and to be considered for participation in the survey, please contact LIDS@polarisproject.org.

How It Works

Frequently Asked Questions

The National Survivor Study (NSS) is a scientifically rigorous tool that upends the traditional power dynamics between researchers and subjects in order to surface insights that enable evidence-based strategies to combat human trafficking in all its complexity and diversity. 

The National Survivor Survey incorporates survivor expertise into every aspect of the project, shifting from the conventional model of research done on a community to a research agenda directed by the affected community.

To tackle the complex systems that enable human trafficking, we need to understand how human trafficking actually works – not just how we think it works. 

The data that exists now is largely either anecdotal, or collected as a by-product of other work, such as serving survivors and prosecuting traffickers. This leads to biases in the results, which can in turn lead to programs and policies that don’t represent the complexity and diversity of human trafficking experiences and survivors.

The single best source for high-quality data, information and insights are survivors themselves, acting as full partners in the endeavor, from determining what information matters, to providing it purposefully, and voluntarily. By intentionally engaging stakeholders through the entire process, we ensure we are asking the most relevant questions for anti trafficking, broaden the diversity of survivor participation and thereby improve the validity of the data.

Yes, absolutely. Polaris’s data set – the largest known to exist on trafficking in the United States – stems from work on more than 60,000 cases of human trafficking. As such, it serves as a vital baseline for understanding how this human rights violation manifests in real-time by showing us trends and changes at a larger scale. But as we have always made clear, data collection is secondary to the mission of the Trafficking Hotline. The NSS will add an additional layer of value and allow us to dig deeper by addressing the limitations inherent in collecting data as a secondary process. Specifically, the NSS process will:

  • Allow for data collection that is purposefully driven by survivors
  • Reflect input from survivors who may not have known about or chosen to utilize the Trafficking Hotline at the time of their trafficking.
  • Allow for directed questioning that may not be appropriate in the context of the work of the Trafficking Hotline – which only collects data as necessary to provide appropriate support and assistance.

Working with survivors and other partners, Polaris will analyze the data, share it with other stakeholders, and apply what we learn to our long-term strategy designed to fundamentally reduce the amount of trafficking by reforming – and in some cases entirely upending – the systems that allow it to thrive – poverty, discrimination, lack of worker and immigration protections, failed social safety nets – to name but a few.

Every step of the way, diverse survivor communities will be engaged through informational and listening sessions, paid consultancies, and compensated research participation. Survivors have developed and are leading the implementation of the stakeholder engagement plan that informs these efforts.

In short, it’s power shifting. Our goal is to flip disparate power dynamics between survivors and the research process by incorporating survivor leadership, insight, and influence throughout all phases of the study. In creating opportunities for meaningful, compensated collaboration, the project will benefit survivors economically and professionally. More importantly, survivor voices, perspectives, and priorities will be the foundation of the study.

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