Human-Trafficking Arrests Are Very Rare in Most States

The exceptions in 2016 were Minnesota and Texas, according to newly released FBI data.


Human trafficking arrests are almost nonexistent in most states, according to the FBI's newly released U.S. crime statistics for 2016.

Part of the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) project, the new data on sex and labor trafficking shows that arrests for either offense are rare and that many suspected incidents of trafficking did not ultimately yield results.

For instance, Florida reported 105 investigations into human-trafficking offenses in 2016 but zero human trafficking arrests last year. Nevada worked on 140 human-trafficking investigations but made only 40 arrests on trafficking charges. Louisiana looked into 123 potential cases of human trafficking but only arrested 16 people for it.

Note that this does not mean "human trafficking" suspects in these cases avoided all charges. They may have still been prosecuted for prostitution or something else—many old-fashioned vice stings start off as "human trafficking investigations" these days. But this report only includes arrests recorded by state and local law enforcement on human trafficking charges, which allows us to look beyond police propaganda about what they're doing and see what it is they're actually doing.

Overall, the data do little to support the idea that the U.S. is experiencing unprecedented levels of labor and sex trafficking or that we are in the midst of some sort of "modern slavery" epidemic. This is probably why you don't see UCR trafficking statistics quoted in congressional reports, "awareness" materials, or law enforcement statements to the media on the topic. Instead, you'll see National Human Trafficking Hotline numbers—It's gotten hundreds of thousands of calls since its launch! The number of "cases reported" is skyrocketing each year!—without anyone mentioning that "cases" here means any call, text, or message to the hotline that isn't an immediate hang-up (many "cases" are simple requests for more information, and even those with "tips" about trafficking are entirely unconfirmed). Meanwhile, the year-over-year increase in calls directly coincides to a spike in new state laws that require the hotline number to be posted all over the place.

This year, 26 states submitted data on their human trafficking investigations and arrests for 2016.* Between them, there were 56 juveniles and 916 adults arrested on human-trafficking charges.

For comparison, 9,374 people were arrested for murder last year in the U.S., 18,606 were arrested for rape, 304,626 were arrested for aggravated assault, 7,767 were arrested for arson, 101,301 were arrested for fraud, and 2,905 for illegal gambling. More than 30,300 people were arrested for "prostitution and commercialized vice" (a category that is separate from illegal gambling or drugs). And 40,292 people were arrested for sex offenses that were not prostitution or rape.

In total, UCR data shows 89,220 suspected sex-offenders were arrested last year, of which 881—about 1 percent—were suspected of sex trafficking.

While two states—Minnesota and Texas—made more than 100 human-trafficking arrests apiece, most states reported just a few, if any at all. (It's important to remember that these are arrest numbers, not the number of cases that went on to prosecution and/or yielded an actual conviction.)

In Alaska, three adult men were arrested for alleged sex trafficking last year. Indiana, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island each reported two adult arrests on sex-trafficking charges; Arkansas, California, Michigan, Montana, and North Dakota each had one. None of these states reported any labor trafficking arrests.

Meanwhile, Arizona and Connecticut each reported zero sex-trafficking arrests, with 34 in Arizona and 14 in Connecticut arrested on labor-trafficking charges.

Even some states routinely positioned as bastions of vice served up relatively few human-trafficking arrests:

  • Nevada reported 32 adults and one minor arrested on sex-trafficking charges last year, plus seven labor-trafficking arrests.
  • Washington state made no sex-trafficking arrests and arrested four minors on labor-trafficking charges.
  • In Louisiana, 7 adults were arrested for alleged sex trafficking and 9 for labor trafficking.

The outliers last year were Texas, which arrested 40 children and 471 adults on sex-trafficking charges and 14 adults on labor-trafficking charges, and Minnesota, which made no labor-trafficking arrests but arrested 206 people for sex trafficking.

Overall, 29 minors arrested on human-trafficking charges last year were white, 23 were black, and four were American Indian. For adults, 626 suspects were white, 251 were black, 27 were Asian, 11 were American Indian, and one was Hawaiian/Pacific Islander. A total of 12 minors and 193 adults arrested were identified as (white or black) Hispanic.

Human-trafficking-specific data were only added to the UCR a few years ago, and few states turned in data at first, limiting the year-to-year comparisons we can make. But where comparisons are possible, we see a relatively stable or even downward trend in arrests:

Indiana by Year 2014 2015 2016
Sex trafficking—adults arrested 74 0 2
Sex trafficking—minors arrested 8 2 0
Labor trafficking—adults arrested 4 0 0
Labor trafficking—minors arrested 19 2 0
Missouri by Year 2014 2015 2016
Sex trafficking—adults arrested 9 7 9
Sex trafficking—minors arrested 3 0 1
Labor trafficking—adults arrested 9 0 2
Labor trafficking—minors arrested 0 0 0
Texas by Year 2014 2015 2016
Sex trafficking—adults arrested 666 481 471
Sex trafficking—minors arrested 35 57 40
Labor trafficking—adults arrested 25 24 14
Labor trafficking—minors arrested 37 3 0
Ohio by Year 2014 2015 2016
Sex trafficking—adults arrested 5 0 0
Sex trafficking—minors arrested 0 0 0
Labor trafficking—adults arrested 0 0 0
Labor trafficking—minors arrested 0 0 0

For UCR purposes, human trafficking for sex is defined as "inducing a person by force, fraud, or coercion to participate in commercial sex acts" or facilitating the prostitution of someone under age 18 with or without force, fraud, or coercion. Human trafficking for labor is defined as "obtaining of a person(s) through recruitment, harboring, transportation, or provision, and subjecting such persons by force, fraud, or coercion into involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery (not to include commercial sex acts)."

*State UCR data does not necessarily include reports from all law-enforcement agencies within a state. It is impossible to know from public data how many agencies in each state participated.