« Response Summer 2015

What Is Human Trafficking?

By Kelsey Chase

RopeThe act:
recruiting, transporting, harboring, or receiving persons

CashThe means:
threat or use of force, deception, coercion, fraud, or payment/benefits

TomatoThe purpose:
exploitation, especially forced labor

Why Is Human Trafficking so Difficult to Measure?

Research in human trafficking is further limited by the misuse of terms, poor or inconsistent methodology, and lack of adequate funding. For these reasons, human trafficking statistics, including the estimates here, should be regarded cautiously.

Lack of reliable data and ambiguous definitions can obscure the true nature of the problem. Forms of exploitation labeled “slavery” and “trafficking” may be less extreme than the terms lead us to believe.

Most studies gather data on reported cases from a representative number of countries and extrapolate a global estimate using statistical analysis. While no measure of human trafficking published today contains statistics from every country in the world, the International Labor Organization is widely considered as having the best estimates.

How Many People Are Trafficked?


20.9 million estimated victims worldwide,1 or approximately 2.5 times the population of New York City (8.4 million)

Number of estimated victims


Graph24,062 signals* to the U.S. national hotline in 2014.

5,042 of these turned into cases.2

Sources: (1) The International Labor Organization (2) The Polaris Project (PDF), the U.S. nonprofit organization that hosts the national tip and crisis hotlines

*Signals include calls, web forms, and emails.

Who Are the Victims?

5.5 mil Children, 15.4 Adults9.5 mil Males, 11.4 mil Females

What Kinds of Labor are Included
in Human Trafficking?

Forced Labor Exploitation Common industries: domestic work, agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and entertainment

Pie chart

Forced Sexual Exploitation Common forms: brothel, Internet, and hotel/motel based prostitution

State-Imposed Forced Labor Farms and Prisons
Common forms: agriculture (e.g., cotton), military

How Much Global Profit Comes From Trafficking?

Global map

Source: ILO, “Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labor”

Annual Profits of Forced Labor
($U.S. billion)

Bar chart