Abstract: Who Reports Human Trafficking Tips? Implications for Bystander Intervention Programs (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Who Reports Human Trafficking Tips? Implications for Bystander Intervention Programs

Friday, January 18, 2019: 6:15 PM
Union Square 20 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Sha Lai Williams Woodson, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Missouri-Saint Louis, MO
Erica Koegler, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Missouri-Columbia, MO
Michelle Teti, DrPH, Associate Professor, University of Missouri-Columbia, MO
Whitney Howland, MSW, Social Worker, Institutional Institute of St. Louis, MO
Background and Purpose: Human trafficking, including sex and labor trafficking, is an often unseen problem in the U.S. given its illegal and exploitative nature of vulnerable populations such as women, youth, and foreign-born individuals. Bystander intervention programs – programs that aim to educate individuals about risk reduction strategies for violence against women – have been utilized to identify and decrease sexual and interpersonal violence, particularly among college students.

Little is known about the potential for bystander interventions to be utilized to identify victims and increase reports of human trafficking. The purpose of this study is to examine the number and nature of reported human trafficking tips over the last decade to identify if there are opportunities for developing and implementing bystander interventions specific to human trafficking.  

Methods: We reviewed six detailed documents (153 pages of text and four spreadsheets) from a large anti-trafficking agency in a major Midwest city to identify the number and nature of who reported each human-trafficking tip between 2008-2017. Tip makers were categorized and coded by theme to report descriptive quantitative data. Qualitative data was used to provide context to the nature of the reports.

Findings: A total of 213 tips were made to the agency.  Fifty-nine percent of the tips described labor trafficking while 28% were for sex trafficking. More tips were made concerning female victims (62%) compared to males (32%). Tips concerned potential victims from Mexico (32%), the US (22%), Asia (14%), Africa (7%), and Europe (4%). Although most tips were about adults of various ages, about 35% of the tips reported minors (under age 18) as potential victims of trafficking.

Out of 213 total tips, reports were most frequently made by social service providers (n=55), community members (n=32), legal agencies (n=28), and law enforcement agencies (n=27). The largest proportion of sex trafficking tips was reported by social service providers (42%), followed by law enforcement (19%). The largest proportion of labor trafficking tips was reported by social service providers (18%), followed by the National Hotline (16%), legal service providers (16%), and community members (15%). While community members made both sex and labor trafficking tips, family members (n=7) only directly reported labor trafficking tips. Fifteen individuals reported their own circumstances and healthcare providers made 14 tips. At least 41 tips went through two sources. For example, one tip was reported by two law enforcement agencies (Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Investigations). Another tip was made by a children’s hospital via family court. There were no clear trends in who reported tips over time.

Conclusions and Implications: This data suggests that reports by community and family members have occurred over the last decade; however, there is a need to increase reports by these groups. Since victims are often hidden and controlled, it may be difficult for them to reach social service providers and law enforcement which increases the importance for bystander awareness. Thus, the need for bystander interventions is essential to assist in decreasing, and eventually eliminating, human trafficking.