Fact Check-Data showing rise in U.S. human trafficking may hide more complicated picture

Some social media posts claim human trafficking in the United States is at an all-time high, and therefore children should not be let out of sight.

Examples of such posts are visible here and here .

This fact check will not examine the safety advice given in the posts. The American Academy of Pediatrics has guidance around child safety here . Instead, this article analyses the claim around levels of human trafficking, in relation to children.

Two human trafficking support organizations told Reuters it is difficult to quantify human trafficking statistics, and that the offenders are known to the victims in most child trafficking cases.

Research from Polaris (, an organization whose experts analyze data from the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, shows that reports of human trafficking have increased yearly since 2015.

The most recent data shown in The U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, 2019 Data Report visible here shows that reports of human trafficking increased 19% between 2018 and 2019.

Despite the appearance of increasing rates of human trafficking, Polaris told Reuters via email: “there are no reliable statistics about prevalence, or how much human trafficking is happening at any given time.”

It went on to say: “claims are often made without any evidence.”

Polaris said warnings about leaving children unattended at bus stops are “well-meaning” but based on a common myth that traffickers usually kidnap people they don’t know. According to the agency, trafficked children almost always know their trafficker (here). A video by Polaris on this can be seen here .

International human rights organization LOVE146 ( says on its frequently asked questions page ( “Frankly, no one knows exactly how many people trafficking affects.”

Erin Williamson, Vice President of Global Programs and Strategy for LOVE146, told Reuters via email that there is “no good data on the scope of human trafficking in the United States.” She went on to say there is also “no way to know or say with any certainty” that “trafficking is at an all-time high.”

Williamson said LOVE 146 was aware of an increased number of social media posts that “perpetuate false narratives” about how traffickers often “kidnap” their victims. Williamson said in some cases, discriminatory undertones have been discovered with social media posts noting potential trafffickers “had dark skin.”

These posts are not just nuisances; they do real damage, she said.

Additional information regarding profiles for human traffickers and resources for victims and service providers can be seen on the U.S. Department of Justice website here .


Missing context. Although reports of human trafficking are rising yearly, organizations told Reuters there are no reliable statistics that show how much trafficking is happening at any given time.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .