Nature and Extent of Human Trafficking

Research conducted by NIJ grantees has uncovered several key findings:

  • Source countries for human trafficking often have poor economies; women are often unemployed and victims are easy to recruit. [1]
  • Most traffickers are the same nationality as their victims and usually have no criminal records. [2]
  • Trafficking victims are most likely to be young and reasonably healthy people from poor, but not necessarily the poorest, backgrounds. [3]
  • Recruitment is particularly effective when traffickers rely on victims whom they have turned into loyal enforcers or recruiters. Recruitment is also effective when the potential victim's family members are involved. [4]
  • In the United States, law enforcement agencies reported encountering more female (81 percent) than male (18 percent) victims. When asked what type of trafficking was represented in their cases, the majority indicated forced prostitution, followed by domestic servitude, and agricultural labor. Whether this is the result of trafficking trends or training is not yet clear. [5]
  • According to a report from researchers at San Diego State University, approximately 38,000 unauthorized Spanish-speaking victims of human trafficking work in San Diego County, California. These workers, who represent 31 percent of unauthorized Spanish-speaking workers in the county, have experienced an incident that meets the official definition of human trafficking. The analysis estimates that of the approximately 174,240 unauthorized Mexicans in San Diego County, about 124,460 are in the labor market. Learn more about this study. [6]


[1] [2] Hughes, D.M., and T. Denisova. "Trafficking in Women From Ukraine." Final report to the National Institute of Justice, 2002, NCJ 203275.

[3] [4] Bales, K., and S. Lize. "Trafficking in Persons in the United States." Final report to the National Institute of Justice, March 2005, NCJ 211980.

[5] Clawson, H.J., K.M. Small, E.S. Go, and B.W. Myles. "Needs Assessment for Service Providers and Trafficking Victims." Final report to the National Institute of Justice, 2002, NCJ 202469.

[6] Zheng, Sheldon. "Looking for a Hidden Population: Trafficking of Migrant Laborers in San Diego County (pdf, 153 pages)." Final report to the National Institute of Justice, 2012, NCJ 240223. 

Date Modified: November 27, 2012