The Prevalence of Labor Trafficking in the United States

Sidebar to the article Ending Modern-Day Slavery: Using Research to Inform U.S. Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts by Maureen Q. McGough

In the NIJ-funded study discussed in the main article, researchers found that the majority of cases identified by law enforcement involved sex trafficking. Only 11 percent of cases were labor trafficking cases; cases with both labor and sex trafficking made up an additional 4 percent. Federal and state data indicate that more investigations and prosecutions take place for sex trafficking than for labor trafficking.

Notably, however, in the U.S. State Department's 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report, victim services providers in the U.S. reported assisting significantly more foreign-national labor trafficking victims than sex trafficking victims.[1] Concurrently, the Department of Health and Human Services has seen a steady rise in labor trafficking victims, and nongovernmental organizations have reported increasing instances of traveling sales crews and peddling rings using child and adult forced labor in the U.S.[2]

Some research suggests that labor trafficking victims are harder to identify than sex trafficking victims, given that international victims may be mistaken for smuggled immigrants. Further, the victimization of labor trafficking victims (many of whom are male) may be seen as less compelling than that of sex trafficking victims (many of whom are young women). In the NIJ-funded study discussed in the main article, researchers found that police and prosecutors were commonly unfamiliar with labor laws and regulations and lacked the infrastructure to identify instances of labor trafficking in various workplace settings.

Empirical research follows the same tendency to focus on sex trafficking. In an NIJ-funded bibliography of research literature on human trafficking, researchers found that the majority of articles addressed sex trafficking. Indeed, out of 39 articles, only four dealt with trafficking for labor exploitation or domestic servitude.[3]

The lack of knowledge about the scope and scale of labor trafficking in this country is particularly concerning given U.S. agriculture's heavy reliance on migrant laborers. To shed light on the issue, NIJ funded a study of migrant laborers in San Diego County; the study used respondent-driven sampling to produce statistical estimates of labor trafficking in the area. The study found that labor trafficking victimization appeared to be rampant among unauthorized Spanish-speaking immigrant workers in the county, with an estimate that more than 30 percent of this target population were labor trafficking victims.[4]

If the numbers coming out of San Diego County are any indication of prevalence in other parts of the country, there is a significant, immediate need for a greater understanding of the scope, scale and methods of labor trafficking on a national level to support and inform critical anti-trafficking efforts. Accordingly, NIJ plans to focus forthcoming solicitations (dependent on funding availability) on the prevalence and methods of labor trafficking in the U.S.

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Notes

[1] U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report, Washington, D.C.: Author, 2012, p. 360.

[2] U.S. Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report, Washington, D.C.: Author, 2012, p. 360.

[3] Goździak, Elźbieta M., and Micah N. Bump, "Data and Research on Human Trafficking: Bibliography of Research-Based Literature" (pdf, 59 pages), Final report to the National Institute of Justice, grant number 2007-VT-BX-K002, October 2008, NCJ 224392, p. 7.

[4] Zhang, Sheldon X., "Looking for a Hidden Population: Trafficking of Migrant Laborers in San Diego County" (pdf, 155 pages), Final report to the National Institute of Justice, grant number 2009-IJ-CX-0011, November 2012, NCJ 240223.

Date Created: February 27, 2013