Written By: SOS International
You likely already know by now that human trafficking is the fastest-growing form of crime in the world. The same is true in America, and while it is hard to understand if you haven’t seen it with your own eyes, this is a reality across the nation. Have you ever been curious to know where trafficking is most prevalent in the US? Below, we share the cities where trafficking is most prevalent, explore the factors that distinguish these cities, and prepare you to act if you come across a trafficking situation yourself.
Top Trafficking Cities
As recently as 2016, we have reputable data that ranks the cities in America by reported cases to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Trafficking data is hard to come by due to the nature of trafficking and victims. Victims often include runaways, homeless minors, and undocumented immigrants, making it hard to keep a completely accurate number. This is why compiled data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline gives us a general picture (but not a wholly definitive picture) of trafficking trends. Considering that information, there are two ways to look at these numbers – by total cases and by number of calls per 100,000 people. Both tables provide us with insights into trafficking patterns:
Making sense of the top trafficking cities
To help make sense of these cities, here is where these cities rank as far as population.
Top 5 Trafficking Cities Population Rank:
New York City #1
Los Angeles #2
Washington, D.C. #23
Top 5 Trafficking Cities Per Capita Population Rank Washington, D.C. #23
Las Vegas #24
The ranking by total calls may seem straightforward; the more people there are, the more human trafficking calls there will be. But that’s just scratching the surface of why these cities have so much trafficking. Each of these large cities has many factors that contribute to the high amount of human trafficking reports. Some of these factors include the economic discrepancy, where traffickers can prey on people lacking basic needs more easily. This is common in cities with large populations. In addition, the mass population of these cities makes it easier for traffickers to recruit and transport victims without being detected by law enforcement. In large cities like these, runaways and homeless youth are also prevalent, presenting another group of vulnerable people for traffickers to target.
Each city in both tables is located along a major interstate, near easy access to ports, or has major international airports. Many of these cities, like Houston, have all of these. In addition, the access and cost of public transport, like buses, taxis, and subways, add to the number of avenues traffickers can move their victims. It’s worth noting that these cities are also huge travel destinations. Washington, D.C., Orlando, Miami, and Las Vegas are each some of the most prominent tourist destinations in the USA, ranking among the top ten most visited cities. Cities with high tourism tend to correlate with trafficking due to the demand for sexual services, as well as the influx of people helping traffickers and their victims blend into the crowd of visitors.
Making sense of an outlier
There is one city in all of this information that may stand out to you: Our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.. Washington D.C, ranks fifth in overall trafficking calls yet ranks twenty-third in population. Moreover, the amount of calls D.C. receives per 100,000 puts them at number one. How should we look at this outlier? Although Washington D.C. is a bustling political and economic city, there is a huge economic discrepancy, the third worst in the United States. This means that many people find themselves impoverished, lacking basic needs that make them vulnerable to trafficking. Baltimore, Maryland, is right next door, a city that also has high levels of economic disparity, creating more opportunities for traffickers to take advantage of those in two neighboring cities with easy road access. The same is true for other cities on this list: Atlanta and Miami are in the top 10 cities with the highest margin of economic disparity.
To summarize, large cities with large influxes of people create ideal environments for traffickers. The number of people lacking basic needs, mass populations, and tourism provide both a demand for trafficked girls and a shroud for traffickers to move their victims undetected.
What should you make of this?
With all the information presented, does it mean that you should avoid traveling to big cities or be worried if you live in one? Not exactly, but this information stands to help you think about the factors that lead to trafficking. This will help build your awareness of trafficking situations that go unnoticed by the vast majority of people.
With the prevalence of trafficking in the US, you may have encountered a trafficking situation without immediately recognizing it. Perhaps there was a situation where you felt something was off walking past a teen girl at your local mall or noticed different cars in and out of a neighbor’s driveway. Trafficking can feel like a foreign and weighty concept; seeing it with our own eyes can make us question what we witnessed and whether it is worth reporting. We’ve provided some questions that people often mull over in these situations, with some thoughts to help your judgment so you can be confident in taking action.
How do I know someone is being trafficked?
Recognizing when trafficking is happening is the first step to confidently reporting an incident. There are an extensive number of signs, but the most common include massive age gaps in partners, someone acting tense or fearful, and refraining from sharing personal life details. You can learn more about the signs of human trafficking on our blog, The Nature of Human Trafficking.
What if I’m wrong?
Trust your gut! It is normal to question yourself, especially when it is a situation you are not comfortable with. Keep in mind that every bit of information helps build a case. If the information you provide comes to be false, there are no repercussions on your end. In the case of human trafficking, it is better to trust your gut and report than to ignore what you have witnessed.
What difference would it make?
It is more convenient for traffickers to hide within the mass population. You are the eyes on the ground. Victims are often limited in their ability to self-report; they likely face threats of harm towards them or their loved ones if they attempt to alert authorities. This puts everyday people in a unique position to make a difference through their actions. Giving as much information as possible will help authorities be one step closer to rescuing a trafficked person and can help change the trajectory of a potential victim’s future.
How do I report human trafficking?
The safest thing to do is to gather as much information as possible and report it to your local police Human Trafficking Task Force. Refrain from confronting the assumed trafficker or victim. You can also anonymously reach out to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or by texting 233733 to report any information you may have.
Bringing human trafficking to an end will take all of us. As you grow in awareness, you will be more keen to notice potential trafficking situations. This isn’t something to shy away from. A tip may not seem like a lot, but for a person whose freedom has been stripped from them, it can change their life forever.