Study of HHS Programs Serving Human Trafficking Victims. What Is the Scope of Human Trafficking into and within the United States?

12/15/2009

The prevalence of human trafficking into and within the United States is difficult to estimate for several reasons. Given the covert nature of the crime, accurate statistics on the nature, prevalence, and geography of human trafficking are difficult to calculate (Clawson, Layne, & Small, 2006). Trafficking victims are guarded closely by their captors, many international victims lack valid immigration documentation, trafficked domestic servants remain invisible in private homes, and private businesses often act as a front for a back-end trafficking operation, all of which make human trafficking a particularly difficult crime to identify and count (Kelly, 2002). Additionally, available data are often non-comparable, contain duplicate counts, are limited to information on women and children trafficked for sexual exploitation, and are inconsistently recorded due to differing definitions and beliefs among service providers regarding who is a victim of human trafficking (Clawson, Layne, & Small, 2006).

According to the U.S. Department of State, 600,000 to 800,000 victims, half of whom are younger than age 18, are trafficked annually across national borders worldwide (U.S. Department of State, 2005; U.S. Department of State, 2006; U.S. Department of State, 2007). Approximately 80 percent of internationally trafficked victims are estimated to be female and 70 percent are believed to be trafficked into the sex industry (U.S. Department of State, 2005). The International Labor Organization (2005) estimates that at any given time, there are 12.3 million people in forced labor, bonded labor, forced child labor, and sexual and involuntary servitude throughout the world. Other estimates of global labor exploitation range from 4 million to 27 million (U.S. Department of State, 2006; U.S. Department of State, 2007).

Since 2000, U.S. Government estimates of the number of people trafficked into the United States each year have ranged from 14,500 to 50,000, with the most recent estimates on the lower end. The closest estimate for domestic trafficking, which is the trafficking of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) within the United States, is an estimate of children and youth at risk for sexual exploitation, including trafficking.[3] Between 244,000 and 325,000 American youth are considered at risk for sexual exploitation, and an estimated 199,000 incidents of sexual exploitation of children occur each year in the United States (Estes & Weiner, 2001).

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