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New Report Highlights Complexity of Sex Trafficking of U.S. Citizens

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Polaris, a leader in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery and restore freedom to survivors, today released a resource that provides insight into the experiences of U.S. citizen sex trafficking victims. The issue brief highlights key aspects of the U.S. sex trafficking industry, including how victims are recruited and controlled, the relationships between victims and traffickers, and common venues where sex trafficking occurs. The brief, based on information reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline and Polaris’s BeFree Textline in 2014, illustrates the variety of situations that victims face in rural, suburban, and urban communities throughout the country.

Click here to download“Sex Trafficking in the U.S.: A Closer Look at U.S. Citizen Victims.”

“Sex trafficking in America is a complex issue that affects a shocking number of women, children, and men all across the country. It’s critical that the voices of the survivors are amplified, so we can all better understand the variety of ways traffickers operate and the comprehensive services victims require to rebuild their lives,” said Sarah Jakiel, Polaris’s Chief Programs Officer. “Key insights from survivor experiences, such as how they became vulnerable to recruitment and the control tactics their traffickers used, enable us to more effectively direct resources to support survivors and eradicate this crime.”

Key highlights from the issue brief include:

Recruitment: Traffickers recruit victims by seeking out people with vulnerabilities that can be exploited for profit. When speaking with Polaris, survivors pointed to sustained unemployment, homelessness, past experiences with abuse, or desperation to provide for their children as major factors on their path towards exploitation. Because traffickers often promise to meet their victims’ needs in order to gain trust and create dependency, survivors believed their controller offered the best chance at financial stability. Of the survivors who disclosed information to the NHTRC and BeFree Textline on recruitment tactics in 2014:

  • 32 percent reported a romantic situation or marriage proposal from a trafficker prior to exploitation.
  • 10 percent reported traffickers acting or posing as a benefactor who can provide care, including food and shelter.
  • 10 percent reported an advertisement for or offer of employment.

Methods of control: Traffickers work to break down their victims’ psyche and develop control over them through a combination of manipulation, affection, violence, isolation, and emotional abuse. Some traffickers develop a systematic process to recruit and control multiple victims, while others may take advantage of a familial relationship. For survivors who disclosed information to the NHTRC and BeFree Textline on control methods in 2014:

  • 39 percent reported physical abuse.
  • 31 percent reported threats and intimidation.
  • 24 percent reported forms of economic abuse.
  • 19 percent reported isolation or confinement.
  • 15 percent reported induced substance abuse.

Relationship to traffickers: A victim’s relationship to his or her trafficker is often a key factor in recruitment and control. Many survivors have intense emotional attachments to their controllers. For survivors who disclosed information to the NHTRC and BeFree Textline on their relationship to their controller in 2014:

  • 32 percent reported their trafficker being an intimate partner.
  • 10 percent reported their trafficker being a family member.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (1-888-373-7888), operated by Polaris since 2007, is a 24-hour national, confidential, multi-modal hotline serving the U.S. and its territories. Statistics from the NHTRC can be viewed here. Polaris launched its BeFree Textline (233733) in 2013 to offer similar services via text.

The information contained in the report is based on aggregated data from 1,611 sex trafficking cases reported to the NHTRC and the BeFree Textline in 2014 involving U.S. citizens, as well as a deeper analysis of 292 survivor accounts who directly contacted the NHTRC or BeFree. The accounts were supplemented with data from 141 U.S. citizen sex trafficking survivors who received direct services from Polaris between 2011 and 2014. References to U.S. citizens include legal permanent residents. The report is not a systematic review, as survivors were not routinely asked a set of standardized questions. The data is not intended to represent the full scope of sex trafficking in the U.S. To protect the privacy and anonymity of individuals contacting the NHTRC and BeFree Textline, Polaris follows strict data confidentiality protocols and does not disclose personally identifying information. All data in public reports is shared in aggregate.


About Polaris

Polaris is a leader in the global fight to eradicate modern slavery. Named after the North Star that guided slaves to freedom in the U.S., Polaris acts as a catalyst to systemically disrupt the human trafficking networks that rob human beings of their lives and their freedom. By working with government leaders, the world’s leading technology corporations, and local partners, Polaris equips communities to identify, report, and prevent human trafficking. Our comprehensive model puts victims at the center of what we do – helping survivors restore their freedom, preventing more victims, and leveraging data and technology to pursue traffickers wherever they operate. Learn more at

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