Gaps in Reporting Human Trafficking Incidents Result in Significant Undercounting

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National Institute of Justice on 8/4/2020

Deficient data on the incidence of human trafficking offenses reflect pervasive issues with incident identification and reporting, a study combining stakeholder interviews and data analysis shows.

Crime statistics on human trafficking are only as solid as the crime data informing them. Recent NIJ-supported research reveals that labor and sex trafficking data appearing in the FBI’s national Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program may significantly understate the extent of human trafficking crimes in the United States.

Before this, there had been no research on the validity of UCR data on human trafficking, the researchers noted. An objective of the study was to advance understanding of how accurately reporting of human trafficking crimes reflects the true incidence of crime in a community.

Researchers discovered a widespread inability of law enforcement officers to identify local trafficking offenses, coupled with inadequate reporting of those offenses that were identified. That insight was the product of extensive record reviews and structured interviews with law enforcement and social service providers. Extrapolating their findings from three study sites to a national scale, the research team led by Amy Farrell, a Northeastern University criminologist, concluded that “the UCR Program undercounts both human trafficking offenses that exist in local communities and human trafficking offenses that are identified by local law enforcement.”

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