Where Does Human Trafficking Happen?

Human Trafficking in the U.S.

Despite a common and widespread misconception, human trafficking is not just a problem outside the US. It also happens here, within United States borders, and in every state. 

The United States ranks as one of the worst countries in the world for human trafficking, with an estimated 199,000 incidents occurring annually. The number of reported cases, however, is much smaller. There were 11,500 reported cases of human trafficking in the United States in 2019.

Learn to identify the signs.

Victims of human trafficking frequently elect not to seek help due to a language barrier or fear of their traffickers or law enforcement. For this reason, stopping human trafficking often requires a third-party recognizing that a person they’ve observed may be a victim of human trafficking, and reporting it.

There are several signs anyone can spot to help identify human trafficking victims. These include lack of personal possessions or identification documents, signs of physical abuse or injury, a malnourished appearance, or avoidance of law enforcement, eye contact, and/or social engagement.

Report suspicious activity.

If you notice any activity, illegal or not, that causes you to suspect human trafficking is occurring or that someone you observe may be a victim of human sex trafficking, you can help to launch an investigation into your observations by reporting them to the local authorities.

Write down any information you can that may be helpful in an investigation, including time of day, address, and vehicle information, if available. Never attempt to confront a potential human trafficker or victim directly.

To contact the Human Trafficking Hotline call 1-888-373-788

Human Trafficking Statistics: In the U.S.

As of the last US human trafficking demographic analysis conducted by the Bureau of Justice for the period of January 2008 through June 2010, the most common sex trafficking victims were either black (40%) or white (26%), while the most common victims of labor trafficking were Hispanic (63%) followed distantly by Asian (17%).

Sex trafficking was the most common type of human trafficking occurring, with 8,248 reports.

Pornography and illicit spa and massage businesses were the most common venues where sex trafficking occurred.

One in five victims of human trafficking were believed to be children, exploited for child labor, child pornography, and begging.

Top States for Human Trafficking

The following are the 5 worst states in the U.S. for human trafficking in the US as of the latest reporting by the Human Trafficking Hotline in 2019.

Among the notable facts about human trafficking in the US relating to these figures, the four states with the most cases of human trafficking – Florida, California, Texas, and New York – have the highest populations in the country.

1,507 Reported Cases in 2019
1,080 Reported Cases in 2019
896 Reported Cases in 2019
New York
454 Reported Cases in 2019
450 Reported Cases in 2019
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Human Trafficking Cases by State Map (2019)

Human Trafficking Arrests by State Map (2019)

(according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program)

Common locations where sex trafficking occurs

Human Trafficking Institute’s 2020 Federal Human Trafficking Report tracks the primary method that defendants in sex trafficking cases use to solicit buyers. The method of solicitation is determined by how or where a defendant locates buyers, including the following strategies: 

When a trafficker solicits buyers of commercial sex through an illegal establishment where in-house commercial sex is offered to customers. 

When a trafficker solicits buyers of commercial sex through a formal business with the primary purpose of supplying buyers with commercial sex or romantic companionship. This includes any time a potential victim provides commercial sex on an “outcall” basis. The victim may meet potential buyers at various types of locations. 

When a trafficker solicits buyers of commercial sex through an online website or social media platform. 

When a trafficker solicits buyers of commercial sex at a business that offers or claims to offer legitimate spa services. This includes legal massage parlors as well as illicit massage parlors that claim to offer a legitimate spa services but whose true purpose is to offer commercial sex to customers.

When a trafficker solicits buyers of commercial sex among individuals they already know. An example of the pre-existing relationship method of solicitation would be a drug dealer who begins selling victims for commercial sex to his customers in addition to drugs.

When a trafficker expects a victim to solicit or initiate commercial sex by walking a designated section of the street–often an area known for criminal activity–which is sometimes called a “track,” “stroll,” or “block.”

When a trafficker solicits or expects a victim to solicit buyers or initiate commercial sex at a strip club.

When a trafficker solicits or expects a victim to solicit buyers or initiate commercial sex at a truck stop. 

hotel hallway

Human Trafficking in the Hospitality Industry

Human traffickers often make use of hotels or motels due to their privacy and constant flow of people on a day-to-day basis. Similar to other forms of human trafficking, these victims are typically immigrants without representation who work with no set pay or who have had their identification taken by their trafficker, who likely operates under the guise of an “employer.” 

But human trafficking in the hospitality industry is not limited to hotels or motels. Although these locations are common, service-based trafficking locations also include casinos or restaurants. In fact, if a place has a food service staff, concierge staff, or luggage staff, there is room for trafficking to occur since these labor-based jobs are all back-end and mostly out of sight.

What industries does labor trafficking affect?

According to the Human Trafficking Institute’s 2020 Federal Report, “Traffickers exploit victims for labor in numerous industries, many of which are essential to Americans’ daily lives.”

In active forced labor cases in 2020, labor trafficking allegedly occurred primarily in the domestic industry, restaurants and other types of food services, and the hospitality industry.

Industries in 2020 Active Criminal Forced Labors Cases

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Every trafficking case represents a person who has been exploited by a predator. With your support, we can give our law enforcement partners the tools they need to solve more cases faster.

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Human trafficking is not a crime that occurs in the dark corners of the world, as most people may think. In fact, some of the more common myths around trafficking are that victims are bound in chains or in handcuffs. Human trafficking victims are also often portrayed being snatched off the street or transported to the United States via shipping containers from Third World countries.

In reality, human trafficking happens in America, to American women and children (women are disproportionately the victims of sex trafficking) by other Americans. This all happens in the open and can be detected if people are aware and know the indicators.

People may encounter a victim in the domestic sex trafficking industry at any of the locations below:

Icons of locations where human trafficking can take place: Brothels, Hotels & Motels, Condominiums, Massage Parlors, Strip Clubs, and Hidden Apartments

Traffickers often advertise their victims on social media and illicit (and sometimes not-so-illicit) websites. In-calls and out-calls often take place at hotels, motels, apartments, and condominiums.

The sex trafficking business also includes legal and illegal brothels, where there may be several victims in one location. When it comes to prostitution, it can be difficult to distinguish whether an individual offering services for money to a client is doing so in a truly independent manner and keeping all their profits, or whether they are performing sex acts under force, fraud, or coercion and not keeping all the proceeds from their labor.  

Human traffickers not only advertise their “product” in strip clubs, but they can also directly traffic their victims there and take all their tips.

Human trafficking vs. prostitution

The nexus between illicit massage parlors and human trafficking can be confusing, but the unfortunate truth is that a large majority of these “businesses” are not what they appear to be. The complexity of this type of human trafficking is a complicated hybrid of crimes that include sex trafficking, labor trafficking, conspiracy, immigration fraud, and money laundering. 

DeliverFund actively supports local and federal law enforcement in the development and identification of illicit massage parlor networks, their actors, and the locations in which the victims are being held against their will from coast to coast.

What should you do if you suspect someone is being trafficked? Although you may feel the need to intervene, it’s important to understand that it is up to law enforcement to investigate suspected cases of human trafficking. You should not attempt to confront a suspected trafficker directly or alert a victim to any suspicions.

The best way to assist law enforcement is: