Human trafficking, both for sex and labor, is a horrific crime plagued by poor statistics, reports the Washington Post Fact Checker. In recent years, many anti-trafficking groups have scrubbed their websites and literature of unproved claims. There still are no reliable and up-to-date statistics that might illuminate the scope of the problem. Vice President Harris noted this week that “globally, human trafficking is a $150 billion business.” That’s a 2014 estimate from the International Labour Organization that has not been updated. This month, both the new governor of Virginia and Harris relied on the same data source — an anti-trafficking group called Polaris — but it's based mostly on anecdotes. Data provided by Polaris on "cases" are "not court cases or necessarily criminal cases,” acknowledged Polaris spokeswoman Caren Benjamin.
Polaris derives these figures from an analysis of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline that it operates. The Department of Health and Human Services provided $4 million over a year to operate the hotline, which receives calls, texts, chats, emails and other online reports. If the staff members answering the calls or other inquiries identify elements of fraud, force and coercion, then that gets listed as a possible instance of human trafficking. The hotline “identified 11,193 potential cases of trafficking, responded to 13,129 signals from potential victims, and reported 3,353 cases to law enforcement,” a federal document says. Only 30 percent of “potential cases” were reported to law enforcement. Polaris warns that policymakers should be careful with the numbers. It says, “Trafficking situations learned about through the Trafficking Hotline likely represent only a small subset of actual trafficking occurring in the United States. Therefore, this data must not be confused with the prevalence of human trafficking in the United States.” Among federal agencies, the Department of Homeland Security opened 947 trafficking nvestigations in fiscal 2020, a decrease from 1,024 in fiscal 2019. The Justice Department formally opened 663 human trafficking investigations in fiscal 2020, an increase from 607 in fiscal 2019, but prosecutions and convictions fell.