11 Human Trafficking Statistics That Show The True Scope Of The Problem

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Recently, President Donald Trump has leaned on human trafficking as one of the main reasons that a wall on the United States' southern border is necessary — but the claims Trump uses in order to further his push for a wall are not exactly true. It is a dire global problem, however, and the statistics on human trafficking will show you the actual scope of the issue.

In an interview on CBS's Face the Nation in early February, Trump said that "this really is an invasion of our country by human traffickers." Days later in his State of the Union address, he said that traffickers "take advantage of the wide-open areas between our ports of entry" to smuggle women and girls into the United States to sell them into prostitution and slavery.

But the claim that there's an influx of human trafficking at the border is false, The Washington Post's Fact Checker declared. And as the criminal justice publication The Appeal laid out, Trump's statements about trafficking misrepresent what's really happening at the border so that he can gather more support for anti-immigration policies.

Human trafficking is a worldwide problem, with millions of people affected and billions of dollars made off of their bodies, forced labor, and sometimes even organs. But as The Appeal reported, Trump often conflates smuggling, when migrants willingly ask or pay someone to help them cross the border, with actual human trafficking.

The truth about human trafficking is that it's a very serious worldwide problem. These statistics show exactly what it looks like.

125 Million People Are Victims Of Forced Labor

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It's notoriously difficult to gauge the number of human trafficking victims. According to one estimate from the ILO, the Walk Free Foundation, and the UN's International Organization on Migration (IOM), there are approximately 25 million people globally who are trapped in a situation where they are being forced to work in one industry or another.

2Forced Laborers Do Work Worth $150 Billion

Forced labor is when a person is forced to work "under threat or coercion" in a variety of ways, including as domestic workers, construction workers, factory workers, and farm workers, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Every year, these forced laborers do work that would be worth more than $150 billion, a report from the ILO states. Of that work, about $46.8 billion's worth takes place in developed countries, which includes the U.S. and many European countries.

371 Percent Of Victims Are Girls & Women

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Adult women make up 49 percent of all detected human trafficking victims, according to a 2018 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report. The report found girls make up 23 percent of all victims, adult men make up 21 percent, and boys make up 7 percent.

4Most Victims Trafficked Into The U.S. Are Forced Into Labor

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Most victims trafficked into the United States are not brought in for sexual exploitation, according to The Washington Post. Nearly 59 percent of foreign citizens trafficked into the United States are labor trafficking victims, while just over 28 percent are known to be victims of sex trafficking and 6 percent are victims of both, Brandon Bouchard of the anti-trafficking group Polaris told the Post.

5Most Forced Labor Happens In A Victim's Place Of Origin

According to a 2012 ILO report, 56 percent of instances of forced labor happened in the victims' place of origin or residence. About 44 percent of victims were moved either within their own country or internationally, per the ILO.

6The U.S. Prosecuted 230 Cases Of Human Trafficking Last Year

According to Polaris, the nonprofit that seeks to disrupt trafficking networks, there was a 13 percent rise in cases of identified human trafficking in the United States in 2017. There are no official statistics on how many victims of human trafficking there are in the country, since so many cases remain unreported; however, Polaris estimates that there are hundreds of thousands across the nation.

The Justice Department prosecuted 230 cases of human trafficking in the United States in 2018, down from 282 cases in 2017. Those cases could include multiple victims.

8Most Cases Prosecuted In The United States Involve U.S. Citizens

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Human trafficking in the United States isn't an immigration problem, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. According to the agency's statistics, in 2015 more than 90 percent of human trafficking cases involved U.S. citizens. The Washington Post noted that includes 92.1 percent of cases dealing with forced labor and sex trafficking, and 92.5 percent of cases of "transportation for illegal sex activity."

7An American Human Trafficking Hotline Receives Thousands Of Calls A Year

The National Human Trafficking Hotline, which is run by Polaris, operates a phone line and a web form that victims of or witnesses to human trafficking can use to alert the authorities. In 2017, the hotline received calls alerting the organization to 8,524 cases of human trafficking across the country. The state with the most cases was California, with 1,305.

9Victims In The United States Are Both American Citizens & Noncitizens

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Brandon Bouchard of Polaris told The Washington Post that the numbers of reports of human trafficking that the organization received on American citizens vs. noncitizens were "basically split."

While Trump's descriptions of human trafficking could lead people to believe that the crime involves bringing people from outside of the United States into the country, that framing actually leaves out thousands of the American victims.

10Human Trafficking Doesn't Always Look Forced At First

In most cases, victims are recruited into sexual slavery by intimate partners or someone who they think could become an intimate partner, according to Polaris.

Of the 2,136 victims of sex trafficking that the hotline identified in 2017, 711 of them were recruited through a proposition from an intimate partner — sometimes even a proposition of marriage. Emotional abuse is one of the main ways that the traffickers kept their victims around.

11Most Human Trafficking Across Borders Happens At Official Ports Of Entry

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Some people are trafficked across American borders from other countries, but contrary to Trump's claims that "human trafficking by airplane is almost impossible" and that traffickers use the "wide-open areas between our ports of entry" to carry out their crimes, most trafficking actually takes place through official ports of entry. That means either airports or overland border crossings.

According to a multi-year set of data on international human trafficking gathered by the UN's International Organization on Migration, 79 percent of human trafficking operations that cross borders do so at official border points. About 20 percent of these journeys happen on airplanes.

Overall, human trafficking is a global problem with terrible consequences for the millions of victims around the world who don't have control over their own lives. Governments, NGOs, and even private citizens can still do a lot more to stop it — but the evidence is lacking that building a wall along the southern border of the United States will have any sort of effect.