Polaris, a global nonprofit organization dedicated to ending modern slavery and human trafficking, released its comprehensive report The Typology of Modern Slavery on Wednesday. The report utilizes the largest known available dataset on human trafficking in the United States, compiling information from more than 32,000 calls to the Polaris-run National Human Trafficking Hotline and more than 10,000 texts to the BeFree Textline, also operated by Polaris.
The report breaks human trafficking in the United States down into 25 different typologies based on the nature of the trafficking situation and the industry in which it operates. Each trafficking type is then broken down by trafficker profile, victim profile, methods of recruitment and methods of control in each situation. In addition, the 18 most prevalent types found in Polaris’ data are presented with some demographic information about the victims, including gender, age group (adult or minor) and U.S. citizen status.
“One of the primary challenges to ending modern slavery has been the lack of data to understand the problem,” said Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris. “The Typology of Modern Slavery offers a new map to understand how human trafficking manifests throughout the country.”
The top five most prevalent human trafficking types found in Polaris’ research were escort services; illicit massage, health and beauty businesses; outdoor commercial sex solicitation; residential commercial sex businesses; and domestic work. Escort services alone accounted for 4,651 cases, involving primarily female victims (94 percent) with 59 percent of victims adults and 43 percent minors.
Other forms of sex-related trafficking mentioned in the report included commercial sex at bars, strip clubs and cantinas; forced appearances in pornography (including child pornography); personal sexual servitude; and forced participation in remote interactive sexual acts i.e. sex shows livestreamed via the internet.
“If we look at sex and labor trafficking in cantinas, this is a type that fronts as a legitimate business, as legitimate bars and restaurants, where they’ll sell alcohol often at inflated prices, and then forced commercial sex may occur onsite or nearby at a hotel or warehouse,” explained report co-author and Polaris director of data analysis Jennifer Penrose, in a press conference Wednesday. Penrose pointed out that these businesses are often run by or associated with organized trafficking groups, and that illicit massage is another type that functions in a similar fashion.
“That suggests some similar strategies for how law enforcement might respond to these cases, how code and health inspectors have a role in identifying these cases because they’re able to enter these businesses,” she said.
Rebecca Bender, trafficking survivor, survivor advocate and CEO/founder of the Rebecca Bender Initiative, further explained how one might be able to spot a trafficking situation in everyday settings.
“Escorts, for example, are going to be sent to a higher clientele and therefore traffickers are definitely going to be getting their nails done, getting extensions put in (their) hair, having (them) go to the tanning salon (…) to them, this is a business and this is their product,” Bender said during the press conference. “Some tips that I would say right away are a girl not paying for her services herself, a man usually five years older or more paying for services. Oftentimes she will be with another girl, so oftentimes traffickers will bring one or more of their victims into the nail salon and then he will pay. You can also tell with the demeanor—she often won’t make eye contact with her trafficker. She definitely is controlled, so she’s not the one making the decisions.”
Bender added that understanding methods of control from the profiles included in the report can better inform the treatment of potential victims by law enforcement.
“When law enforcement would come in and do the very thing that our trafficker would threaten, then it really solidified the bond between the victim and the trafficker that ‘maybe I should listen to what he’s saying, because the cop did take my kid, or my friend did go to prison for co-conspiring,’” Bender told Forensic Magazine, adding that there has been much progress in the last five years in training law enforcement to handle sex trafficking cases. “I’m thankful that not only will this report do such a great job with helping to understand all of the complexities but (…) law enforcement are way further along in really understanding the issue and not arresting victims.”
Labor trafficking and labor exploitation were also examined in the report and made up about 16 percent of cases. However, the report and its creators note that labor exploitation is greatly underrepresented in calls and texts to the hotline and textline.
“It is important to note that, globally, forced labor is believed to be more prevalent than sex trafficking,” the report states. “Polaris strongly believes that labor trafficking cases in the U.S. are chronically underreported due to a lack of awareness about the issue and a lack of recognition of the significant vulnerability of workers in many U.S. labor sectors.”
Labor exploitation cases included in the report were most prevalent in the agriculture and animal husbandry industry and the restaurants and food services industry. In both of these types, most of the victims were adult foreign nationals, and many of them were on work visas such as the H-2A, H-2B and J-1 work visas. Some of the victims were also undocumented immigrants.
Penrose says consumers at businesses such as salons, restaurants and hotels where employees may be trafficked or exploited can best help by putting potential victims in contact with the Polaris trafficking hotline or textline.
“We always encourage people, if it is safe, to share the hotline number, because it’s very helpful to hear it directly from the workers involved,” Penrose said in the press conference.
The full Polaris report can be read here: https://polarisproject.org/typology