Why are so many human trafficking statistics contradictory?


When beginning to research human trafficking statistics, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the differing numbers that you find. There are many prominent organizations whose websites list the number of trafficking victims in the world, but many of them record largely differing numbers. It’s important to note this difference in numbers, however, as you advocate and fight for the individuals trapped in trafficking.

But why are the statistics so inconsistent?

One explanation for the difference could be that the statistic depends on the organization’s mission. Many organizations specialize in different areas of human trafficking; thus, they only include those specific types of trafficking in their estimated statistics.

For example, BEST, one of Dressember’s grant partners, works solely in the Seattle area. The statistics that they present on their website are based solely off of their research and work in Seattle. The National Human Trafficking Hotline works in the U.S.; thus, their statistics are based off of their work to reach victims in the United States. As a final example, the International Labour Organization’s estimate of 40.3 million victims worldwide includes 25 million people in forced labor and 15 million people in forced marriages. Although 40.3 million is a large number, the total number of human trafficking victims is most likely even larger.

As evidenced, it is important to first understand an organization’s mission before you read the statistics they provide.

Another explanation of the difference in statistics could be the years that the numbers were derived from. Some websites take past estimates from the International Labor Organization that report 20.9 million forced labour victims. This number, however, is based off of reports that estimate the number of victims from 2002 through 2011. Statistics taken from years prior to and after will most likely vary. In a report by the International Labour Organization in 2017, 25 million people are estimated to be in forced labour; thus, when researching human trafficking statistics, it is also important to look at the year in which the report was written.

Why is it important to know that the statistics differ? Does it really matter?

And the answer to that is: Yes! It matters quite a bit.

Human trafficking occurs worldwide, and unfortunately, many cases remain unreported and undiscovered. Monique Villa, the CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which works to combat human trafficking, said, “The problem with human trafficking is that of course the victims are silenced. We don’t have good data about it. You don’t know how many slaves there are around the world.”

Traffickers subtly recruit their victims through means such as force, fraud, or coercion in order to avoid detection. Sadly, traffickers often view the business as low risk with high profit. The business is estimated to generate $150 billion annually, yet even with the large estimated numbers of trafficking victims, there were only 14,894 prosecutions and 9,071 convictions for trafficking in 2016.

We may think that 25 million and 40.3 million are shockingly high numbers, but the truth is that they are probably even higher. Traffickers do all that they can to maintain complete control over their victims, using violence, threats, and blackmail to keep them silenced. They often target the threats of violence against the victim’s family and friends, forcing the victim to stay with them or risk harm to those they love.

This is why it is so important for individuals and authorities to be informed about human trafficking. If we are able to recognize signs of human trafficking, we can fight for those who are unable to call for help. We can partner with organizations and other individuals in spreading awareness of trafficking and doing what we can to ensure that the statistics aren’t just numbers–they are millions of individuals robbed of freedoms that we enjoy every day. If you can do something to help them find their freedom, why not come alongside them in their fight?

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About the Author

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Galaxy tights, brightly patterned socks, and a steaming cup of tea in her T. Rex mug often accompany Megan Shupp when she sits down to write. After graduating from Thomas Edison State University with her Bachelor in English and earning a Graduate Certificate in Editing from UC Berkeley, she is excited to use her passion for writing and stories to join Dressember in their fight against slavery.