Polaris analyzed more than 32,000 cases of human trafficking documented between December 2007 and December 2016 through its operation of the National Human Trafficking Hotline and BeFree Textline—the largest data set on human trafficking in the United States ever compiled and publicly analyzed. Polaris’s research team analyzed the data and developed a classification system that identifies 25 types of human trafficking in the United States.
Labor trafficking for work in recreational facilities has been reported to the National Hotline in amusement parks, summer camps, golf courses, and community swimming pools, though it may also occur in other sectors of this industry. Positions at these facilities include lifeguards, camp counselors, ride attendants, and food vendors.
While victims of labor exploitation tend to be young adults on J-1 visas as part of the work and travel program, nationalities run the gamut from countries across Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean, East and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and even the U.S. (about one-third of trafficking cases), according to hotline data.
Labor trafficking victims in the healthcare industry are primarily found in nursing homes and as home health aides. The lines between domestic work and in-home health care can be difficult to ascertain, since some domestic caregivers are expected to provide medical services without proper certification. Because of these intersections, it is important to consider both industries when crafting intervention and disruption efforts.
Migrant women from the Philippines are most prevalent in hotline data, followed by West African immigrant women and U.S. citizens. Victims may possess H-1B, H-2B, J-1, or H-1C (registered nurse) visas. Male survivors are involved in 23 percent of labor trafficking within the healthcare industry, according to Polaris-operated hotline cases.
Forestry & Logging
According to data from Polaris-operated hotlines, trafficking in the forestry industry has included pine tree farm workers, reforestation planters, loggers, and workers maintaining woodland areas. Survivors in forestry are almost exclusively men from Mexico and Guatemala on H-2B visas, according to cases reported to the National Hotline.
Labor exploitation and human trafficking cases involving carnival workers have been reported to the National Hotline. Workers are responsible for operating rides, games, and food stands, as well as for assembling and disassembling carnival equipment for movement between cities. Carnival companies may contract with state and county fairs to provide rides and games, and a small number of companies and recruiters dominate the U.S. carnival industry.
Most cases involve men and women from Mexico or South Africa on H-2B visas. While some U.S. citizens have been documented to work at carnivals, the extent of their potential exploitation is relatively unknown.
Remote Interactive Sexual Acts
Remote interactive sexual acts are live commercial sex acts simulated through remote contact between the buyer and victim through webcams, textbased chats, and phone sex lines. Because of the lack of physical contact between the victim and buyer, traffickers can frame this business as a “low-risk” endeavor—but it is still sex trafficking if the victims are compelled to participate under force, fraud, or coercion, or if the victim is under the age of 18.
In the limited number of reported cases, U.S. citizen females are the most frequent victims; minors are victimized in just under half of all cases. The same data has also revealed a surprising 12 percent of cases involve the LGBTQ community.
Factories & Manufacturing
Workers in food processing, clothing, and shoe manufacturing factories are especially vulnerable to labor abuse and trafficking. Polaris-operated hotlines have also documented labor trafficking and exploitation cases in a wide range of other manufacturing facilities, including factories producing electronic devices and vehicles.
H-2B visa holders are often victims, but minors also have been referenced in National Hotline cases. Nationalities are much more diverse than in most other labor trafficking types, but the highest concentrations are from Southeast Asia, Latin America, and India.
Commercial Cleaning Services
The National Hotline has encountered trafficking and labor exploitation within commercial cleaning businesses that provide janitorial and housekeeping services to multiple private households, office buildings, and other commercial businesses. Though limited data is available, there is sufficient evidence that foreign national men, women, and unaccompanied children from Latin America are most susceptible to labor trafficking within these businesses. Others are from the Philippines and the Caribbean or are U.S. citizens.
Arts & Entertainment
Cases of labor trafficking have been reported to Polaris-operated hotlines in a variety of sectors of the arts and entertainment industry, including modeling, athletics and, less commonly, in performing arts such as acting, choirs, and dance troupes. The hotlines also have received reports of labor trafficking in exotic dancing. While the lines between sex and labor trafficking in strip clubs is often complex, if the adult victim is forced into exotic dancing with no accompanying sex act, this would be classified as labor trafficking.
Young women (both U.S. and foreign nationals) are often victimized in the modeling industry. Labor trafficking in athletics often involves boys and young men from Latin America and West Africa, and U.S. citizen women are the majority trafficked for labor in strip clubs.
Criminal syndicates in illegal industries can exploit people for profit with the same levels of force, fraud, and coercion as in any legitimate labor industry. Polaris has seen this type of trafficking most frequently with street-level drug distribution businesses and cross-border drug smuggling, along with general domestic gang activity. Labor trafficking within illicit activities can occur in tandem with sex trafficking business models.
Adult and minor female intimate partners of drug dealers, both U.S. citizen and foreign national, are routinely forced to sell drugs. In addition, domestic gangs target young U.S. citizen boys. Finally, men and vulnerable, unaccompanied boys from Mexico and Central America are chronically trafficked in cartel-controlled drug smuggling schemes.
Victims of labor trafficking in landscaping are responsible for maintaining public or private grounds, gardens, and nurseries. Landscaping is the most commonly referenced type of labor trafficking and exploitation involving H-2B visa holders in cases reported to Polaris-operated hotlines. H-2B visa holders are not eligible for federally funded legal services, making it extremely difficult to secure services for victims in landscaping.
Sixty-three percent of hotline cases involved men from Mexico. Some of the workers were from Guatemala or were U.S. citizens. Cases involving women and children are rare, according to Polaris-operated hotlines.
Hotels & Hospitality
Victims of labor trafficking have been found in hospitality businesses such as hotels, motels, resorts, or casinos working as front desk attendants, bell staff, and, most frequently, in housekeeping. Most are women and men from Jamaica, the Philippines, and India, and typically they are told that they will make lucrative wages to support family back home. Most victims enter the job with an H-2B visa, which restricts visa portability, tying victims to their abusive employer. J-1 visas are also used, though less frequently.
U.S. citizen victims have also been reported to the hotline. Adults made up the vast majority of victims reported to Polaris-operated hotlines.
Labor trafficking in the construction industry usually occurs within small contracting businesses completing tasks such as roofing, carpentry, welding, electrical work, and masonry on both large commercial construction sites as well as in private homes. Employers may misclassify workers as independent contractors, thus limiting their access to worker protections and benefits.
The majority of survivors are men from Mexico and the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala), most of whom have H-2B visas or are undocumented. U.S. citizen survivors have also been forced to perform construction jobs under the control of fraudulent religious organizations, unscrupulous residential and drug recovery programs, and individuals posing as landlords exploiting a victim’s homelessness.
Health & Beauty Services
Labor trafficking and exploitation has been known to occur in businesses such as nail salons, hair salons, and health spas. Though workers interact regularly with customers, providing services such as manicures and facials, due to language barriers and intensive monitoring, it can be difficult for workers to reach out for help.
Due to limited data, little is known, but traffickers predominantly have an employer relationship with victims, and many are from Vietnam or China. In a smaller subset of cases, the trafficker was a victim’s intimate partner or spouse.
Personal Sexual Servitude
Personal sexual servitude takes various forms, and the payment is not always cash. The line between ongoing sexual abuse and personal sexual servitude is complex, and different survivors may define their experiences differently. It can occur when a woman or girl is permanently sold, often by her family to settle a drug debt, to an individual buyer for the explicit purpose of engaging in periodic sex acts over a long period of time. It can also occur within a commercial non-consenting marriage situation.
In most reported cases, victims are U.S. citizens. Runaway homeless youth and LGBTQ minors are particularly vulnerable. Foreign national victims are predominantly women and girls from Mexico and Central America.
Agriculture & Animal Husbandry
Traffickers exploit workers in the agriculture and animal husbandry industry, from corn fields to orange orchards to dairy farms. Some crops such as tobacco—the crop cited most often on Polaris-operated hotlines—require much more intensive labor to harvest, making them more susceptible to forced labor or exploitation. Others frequently mentioned are cattle/dairy, oranges, tomatoes, and strawberries.
Often an agricultural contract will promise an hourly rate but then pay on a piece-rate basis, which severely limits earning potential and further entraps the victims. Abuse and exploitation of agricultural workers can happen at multiple levels due to the complex labor supply chain of recruiters, managers, contractors, subcontractors, growers, and buyers.
Peddling & Begging
Forced peddling and begging is a well-known type of labor trafficking globally, but Polarisoperated hotlines tend to receive fewer direct reports from victims of this type in the U.S. due to a limited number of victims willing to speak out. One peddling scheme revealed by hotline data involves traffickers who pose under the guise of a seemingly legitimate charitable or religious organization claiming to provide trips and enrichment services to “at-risk youth.” In fact, these rings exploit young U.S. children by forcing them to sell candy or baked goods, or solicit “donations” on streets or in shopping centers.
Due to limited data, little is known. Some case data has shown familial links with traffickers forcing their more vulnerable family members into begging.
Restaurants & Food Service
Labor trafficking within the restaurant and food industry has been documented in nearly all kinds of food service and may involve bars, clubs, buffets, taquerias, or food and ice cream trucks. People working as cooks, bus staff, and wait staff may be exploited, with traffickers often taking advantage of language barriers between exploited workers and patrons to help avoid detection.
With this type, it can be difficult for even survivors to decipher who their primary trafficker is since the links between the smugglers, recruiters, and restaurant management are sometimes unclear and may be deliberately obfuscated by the trafficker to help avoid detection.
Traveling Sales Crews
Traveling sales crews move between cities and states and go door-to-door, often selling fraudulent products such as magazine subscriptions that customers may never receive. Young salespeople are rarely fully compensated, sell all day, and are unable to leave due to fraud, manipulation, and coercion. As a result, sales crews find this business model of labor trafficking financially rewarding and low-risk. Finding links to larger national networks can be challenging because many organizations frequently change names and operating locations while keeping the same ownership.
Teens and young adults from marginalized and economically disadvantaged communities are targeted. Victims in this category are overwhelmingly U.S. citizens.
The National Hotline has documented cases of family members, intimate partners, and individual sex traffickers earning profit from distributing a victim’s non-consenting appearance in pornographic material. The related issue of “revenge porn” is also a concern within relationship violence and can be considered high risk for sex trafficking. This type also includes the production and distribution of child pornography.
While some tips of sex trafficking in pornography supply limited data due to the caller’s distance from the situation, hotline data has revealed that survivors tend to be U.S. citizens. While most survivors in these cases are female, the rate of male victimization is four times the rate in other sex trafficking types.
Bars, Strip Clubs, & Cantinas
Human trafficking happens in legitimate bars, restaurants, or clubs selling food and alcohol while exploiting victims for both sex and labor behind the scenes. Victims must provide customers with flirtatious companionship to entice them to purchase highpriced alcoholic beverages, often with an explicit or implicit agreement for commercial sex acts. Some bars and cantinas are entirely run by organized human trafficking networks. Many strip clubs and go-go clubs are associated with this type of sex and labor trafficking.
Frequent victims are women and girls from Mexico and Central America aged 14 to 29, and clientele is normally men from local Latino communities. Most trafficking in go-go and strip clubs involve U.S. citizen and Eastern European women and girls.
Domestic or homecare workers often live within their employers’ households and provide services such as cooking, cleaning, and caretaking for children and the elderly or infirm. Labor trafficking for domestic work may also occur within the cycle of intimate partner violence or forced marriage situations as a means of maintaining or exerting power and control.
Hotline data reflects that survivors are predominantly middle-aged to older-aged women from the Philippines, while many are U.S. citizens or survivors from Latin America, India, and numerous countries spanning Sub Saharan Africa. Survivors in this data came from more than 105 countries. Male victims were reported in 12 percent of the cases and child victims in 8 percent.
Sex trafficking can occur within organized residential brothels run by a network of coordinated traffickers, or within private households used more informally for commercial sex. Residential brothels that follow the first, more formalized model tend to cater to commercial sex buyers from similar ethnic and/or language backgrounds, advertising through word of mouth or covert business cards. Advertisement for the second model varies, but often includes word of mouth, and Backpage.com is emerging as a frequent source.
In more formalized brothels, victims tend to be women and to a lesser extent girls, with many victims from Latin America and Southeast Asia. Sex trafficking within residences informally used as brothels typically involves child victims, with boys making up a growing percentage.
Outdoor solicitation occurs when traffickers force victims to find buyers in an outdoor, public setting. In cities, this occurs on a particular block or at cross streets known for commercial sex and often referred to as a “track” or “stroll.” In rural areas, it frequently takes place at rest stops along major highways.
According to Polaris-operated hotline data, survivors are overwhelmingly U.S. citizen women and girls. Women and girls of color are also disproportionately represented in the data. While victims represent diverse experiences and socioeconomic backgrounds, certain inequalities and societal factors may make particular individuals especially vulnerable. These factors include histories of trauma and abuse, addiction, chronic mental health issues, and homelessness. Runaway and homeless youth are particularly vulnerable.
Illicit Massage, Health & Beauty
Illicit massage, health, and beauty businesses present a façade of legitimate spa services, concealing that their primary business is the sex and labor trafficking of women trapped in these businesses. Although they appear to be single storefronts, the majority are controlled as part of larger networks – with one to three people owning several businesses at a time. Research suggests there are at least 7,000 storefronts in the U.S., and possibly far more.
Most victims of illicit massage businesses are women from the mid-thirties to late fifties from China and South Korea. In other illicit health and beauty businesses, labor trafficking survivors are typically younger females (mid-twenties and older) from Southeast Asia.
Escort Services is a broad term that refers to commercial sex acts that primarily occur at a temporary indoor location. The operations are often described as “out-call,” where traffickers deliver victims to a buyer’s hotel room or residence for “private parties,” or as “in-call,” where potential buyers cycle in and out of a hotel room where the trafficker confines victim for extended stays.
There have been fluctuations in popular online advertising platforms for commercial sex, but the most prevalent online marketplace is Backpage.com. Though Backpage closed its U.S. Adult Services section in January 2017 due pressure from the U.S. Senate, Backpage accounts for over 1,300 cases of trafficking and remains a driving force in global sexual exploitation.