Articles

Polaris Releases Report Examining Role Industries and Systems Play in U.S. Human Trafficking Cases

By: ERIN MARSH

On July 12, 2018, Polaris released On-Ramps, Intersections and Exit Routes: A Roadmap for Systems and Industries to Prevent and Disrupt Human Trafficking. This report builds upon Polaris’s 2017 Report, The Typology of Modern Slavery, which documented the 25 primary types of human trafficking occurring in the U.S. using data from nearly 10 years of operating the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The 2017 report used these typologies to examine the demographics of both victims and traffickers and how victims are recruited and controlled. The new report will use a matrix to examine how these 25 typologies interact with legitimate business and systems.

The Intersection report focuses on six industries and systems:

  1. Financial services
  2. Social media
  3. Transportation
  4. Hotels and motels
  5. Housing and homelessness systems
  6. Health care

Trafficking business models are not vacuums, they interact with legitimate systems and industries, and it is important to understand the business plans of human trafficking and how they work within and around these sectors. It is only then that it becomes more possible to prevent and disrupt human trafficking type-by-type. The information about how each of these systems and industries are exploited by traffickers comes from extensive surveys of, and focus groups with, survivors of all types of human trafficking, as well as data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Additional information as well as survivors’ thoughts and experiences with each of the industry sections can be found at: www.polarisproject.org/intersections.

Hotels & Motels

There were 482 potential victims of labor trafficking or exploitation in the hospitality industry identified by the National Human Trafficking Hotline since January 2015. Data from the Hotline cannot definitively determine how many potential labor trafficking victims were trafficked directly by hotel management and how many were trafficked by subcontractors or staffing agencies. There is potential for trafficking in hotel and motels’ supply chains such as the workers who provide bed sheets, towels, or décor as well.

Recommendations:

  • Enact policies to directly hire employees whenever possible.
    • The more removed an employment relationship is, the more vulnerable workers are to abuse which can include debt bondage, threats, or severe labor violations.
    • If it is not possible to directly hire, thoroughly research subcontractors’ recruitment and business practices and create enforceable oversight systems.

Financial Services

Survivors reported that traffickers abused the financial services system through a variety of ways including structuring deposits to avoid detection from transactional monitoring, using pre-paid credit cards, using accounts in victims’ names, and targeting victims with better credit.

“Everything was put in my name with [my trafficker] as a co-signer, since [my trafficker] used a fake name, when I escaped, everything faulted back on me.” – Anyonymous survivor

Recommendations:

  • Assist survivors in rebuilding their economic portfolio by providing feasible access to financial services to help build credit.
  • Pass legislation to allow for transparency of corporate beneficial ownership.
    • The federal government should enact legislation requiring every registered business to disclose their true beneficial owner, and at the very least that information should be available to law enforcement.

Social Media

Human trafficking survivors reported using private messages on social media apps to communicate with friends, family, and service providers to coordinate leaving their trafficking. Once out of their situations, survivors rely on social media spaces for their continued safety, to rebuild their social relationships, and to connect, network, and share their stories with other survivor leaders.

“When I was in the life, I had social media and I was allowed to use it, but it was highly monitored. But when I got out, I kept my accounts open and just started sharing about my process. Now as a service provider, my non-profit organization uses social media to connect with women still in the life. That has really been a unique and special thing for me.” – Anonymous survivor

Recommendations:

  • Implement innovative safety features that could benefit survivors:
    • These could include disappearing messages and passcode protected folders or photo albums.
    • Defaulting to “opt-in” options instead of requiring users to “opt out.”
  • Enable targeted ads for anti-trafficking organizations to intelligently offer sponsored posts connecting potential victims to resources and help.

Transportation

The National Human Trafficking Hotline has received 734 cases of potential sex trafficking occurring at truck stops since December 2007. Nearly 58% of these cases were reported by trucking professionals. Other transportation systems such as long-distance and public buses, trains, and airlines are also used during trafficking situations to move victims throughout the country.

Recommendations:

  • Provide travel vouchers or points donations.
    • These can be used by victims to escape trafficking situations as well as aid them in rebuilding their lives.

Health Care

Polaris’s Survivor Survey found that 57% of survivors reported never being asked trafficking or abuse assessment questions during their health care visit.

“If you ask somebody questions off a monitor [it will affect] the way that they respond. But if they ask them in a more compassionate way…I think it would just be a huge difference in the way that care is given.” – Anonymous survivor

Recommendations:

  • Create and implement a trauma-informed care and training protocol, bolstered by posting the National Hotline number where it can be discreetly accessed by at-risk patients.
  • Urge Congress to pass the Stop, Observe, Ask, and Respond (S.O.A.R.) to Health and Wellness Act to reauthorize and expand funding to ensure health care and related professionals have access to comprehensive training and technical assistance to help trafficking victims.

Housing and Homelessness

Polaris’s survivor survey found that 64% of survivors reported being homeless or experiencing unstable housing at the time they were recruited into their trafficking situation. 64% of survivors reported that lack of affordable housing was a barrier in their ability to leave their trafficking situation.

Recommendations:

  • Add survivors of human trafficking as a target population for domestic violence shelters. Domestic violence shelters will need additional resources to do so, and some will need to revamp certain policies to meet the needs of both populations.
  • Include basic rights and protections into standard housing lease agreements protecting survivors of human trafficking from housing discrimination, eviction, or other punishment based on their status or history as a victim of crime.

About the author

Erin Marsh

Erin Marsh

Erin is a Data and Research Associate at Polaris. As part of the Data Analysis Program at Polaris, Erin works on the development of Polaris’s data-driven typologies and additional research agendas. This program is informed by research and engagement with survivors and multi-disciplinary stakeholders. She previously worked as a Graduate Assistant with the Human Rights Program at The Carter Center, specializing in violence against women issues. She has spent over 6 years researching and working on topics such as intimate partner violence and human trafficking. She also has experience working on grant writing and reporting and working with government and non-governmental organizations to apply for grants for more assistance programs to address the needs of domestic violence and human trafficking victims. She is a graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology with a B.S. in Psychology. She also received her Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Georgia State University.