Press Releases

Human Trafficking During the COVID-19 Pandemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 10, 2020) – The pandemic and subsequent quarantine may already be leading to an escalation of human trafficking, according to an analysis of data from the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, which Polaris has operated since 2007. 

The analysis looks at three distinct time periods for the purpose of comparison:

  • Pre-shelter-in-place 2019: April 1st -April 30th, 2019
  • Pre-shelter-in-place 2020: Feb 14th – March 15th, 2020
  • Post-shelter-in-place 2020: April 1st – April 30th, 2020

The number of crisis trafficking cases handled by the Trafficking Hotline increased by more than 40 percent in the month following the shelter-in-place orders compared to the prior month (from approximately 60 in a 30 day period to 90). Crisis cases are those in which some assistance – such as shelter, transportation, or law enforcement involvement – is needed within 24 hours.

The number of situations in which people needed immediate emergency shelter nearly doubled (from around 29 cases in Feb. 14th – March 15th, 2020 to 54 in April 2020).

The data is alarming, if not unexpected. 

“Sex and labor trafficking don’t happen in a vacuum but are the end results of a range of other problems – poverty and systemic inequity, to name just a few,” said Nancy McGuire Choi, interim CEO of Polaris. “The economic upheaval, the fact that people are essentially trapped with their abusers, the desperate straits so many find themselves in, are conditions where trafficking thrives. As society heads toward recovery we must target help to those who are most vulnerable,” Choi said.

Data from the Trafficking Hotline is not a definitive source of exactly how much human trafficking is occurring in North America at any time, and the findings of a single month are, of course, just that – a single month. Additionally, it is important to note that this analysis is only an exploration of correlation and findings and not proof that changes are caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Trafficking Hotline exists to assist victims and survivors of human trafficking and questions are asked only for the purpose of providing that assistance; therefore there will be measurement variations in every situation. Finally, the data from 2020 has not been through Polaris’s review process yet and may change. For more details please click here

More Press Releases

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