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Human Trafficking Statistics: Where Do The Numbers Come From, Anyway?

November 2nd, 2009

I’ve repeatedly been asked “what are the numbers?” How many people are being trafficked–people want to know. My response is this: I wish I could give you hard, credible numbers, but I don’t think anyone can.

The reason is that human trafficking is one of the fastest growing global criminal enterprises. It’s up there with guns and drugs, earning (an estimated) $30 billion per year, but as it’s criminal it’s unregulated. It’s also both big-time crime and small, family sized operations.

The big agencies working on human trafficking and slavery rely on reports that are written on reports, they rely on field teams and local non-governmental organizations, law enforcement, social workers, and victims themselves.

The point I’m making is that we have an idea of the numbers, but aren’t quite sure. Why? Read on past the jump.

If you look at the the global law enforcement data for prosecutions in the 2009 US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report you would think this isn’t a very big crime; only 5212 prosecutions occurred of which 312 were for labor. However, the State Department cites the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimate of “12.3 million adults and children in forced labor, bonded labor, and commercial sexual servitude at any given time.”

Either law enforcement is having a really tough time of it, or the ILO is way off base with its estimate. So I’m not going to list off a bunch of numbers. Plus, just what does 12.3 million look like? It’s so big I cannot fathom how many people that really is.

I will point you to some good resources and share a quote from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). It is compiling a database of statistics, sources, and citations for human trafficking research. UNESCO Bangkok states:

“When it comes to statistics, trafficking of girls and women is one of several highly emotive issues which seem to overwhelm critical faculties. Numbers take on a life of their own, gaining acceptance through repetition, often with little inquiry into their derivations. Journalists, bowing to the pressures of editors, demand numbers, any number. Organizations feel compelled to supply them, lending false precisions and spurious authority to many reports.”

But I think we can conceptualize this number: 250. A few weeks ago I sat in an executive director’s office and was told that in Seattle they have the names of 250 young girls–minors, children, US citizens–who are being forced into commercial sex. Evidence from case workers, police, and detectives point to an additional (estimated) 250-350 girls at any one time in King County who suffer the same fate.

We can visualize 250. That’s about 10 average classrooms of ninth-grade students.

Statistics


(Republished from my Human Trafficking Resources Page>

UNODC Definition of Human Trafficking

US State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, 2009
The US developed a ranking system that rates all countries (except itself) on how well they are doing to combat human trafficking. This is a lengthy, but important document. I recommend going to the web page first.
Link to the US State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, 2009 web page.
Download the TIP report in PDF format (22mb).

“The Boyer Report” was commissioned by the City of Seattle to help understand the issue of the prostitution of juveniles and how the City can respond. Titled “Youth in Prostitution Final Report June 2008,” it led to the development of a pilot program “Safe Housing and Treatment for Children in Prostitution” which is currently struggling (Nov 2009) to find funding after King County cut the program due to a budget crisis. Download “Youth in Prostitution Final Report June 2008” (PDF) here.

Steinfatt, Baker, and Beesey published a three-part report on their attempt to verify statistics of human trafficking victims in Cambodia. Oddly, I couldn’t find part II, but here’s Steinfatt, Baker, Beesey Part I (PDF), and here is Steinfatt, Baker, Beesey Part III (PDF).

Read about the Methodological Issues in Trafficking Research (PDF) as noted by Thomas Steinfatt.

Polaris Project Stats (PDF)
Disclaimer: I found this on a faith-based website but couldn’t find it on the Polaris Project’s site nor have I verified every citation. However, a lot of it looks very familiar to me.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) database of statistics, sources, and citations for human trafficking research.

Here is the UNESCO Trafficking Statistics Project Main Page

Here is the UNESCO Trafficking Statistics Project Bibliography

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