Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault publishes study addressing prevalence of human trafficking in Texas


Photo Credit: Courtesy of The School of Social Work

Coinciding with National Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month, a new study released by the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault at UT’s School of Social Work revealed that 313,000 Texans are victims of human trafficking at any given time.

Human trafficking occurs when one person is controlled by another through violence or other means of coercion involving commercial sex, forced labor and other forms of servitude. The Statewide Human Trafficking Mapping Project of Texas seeks to address the potential inaccuracy of existing data sets, which only focus on identified victims and therefore only address a fraction of the larger problem.

In collaboration with the Bureau of Business Research at UT’s IC2 Institute and Allies Against Slavery, the research study began in 2014 with funding from the Criminal Justice Division at the Texas Office of the Governor.

Institute director Noël Busch-Armendariz served as the principal investigator on the project.

“It’s not that we’re getting false reports, it just has to do with the complexity of reporting,” Busch-Armendariz said. “People are controlled by other people exploiting them, and they’re scared to report. The question now is how do we use this information to push the solution forward—information that we know now to be true and evident from the research?”

In addition to using existing databases, Busch-Armendariz and her team compiled their data by estimating community segments in the state that are at a higher risk for human trafficking and then estimating an average number of victimizations in those areas. By applying those numbers together, the team was able to determine how many victims are in Texas at any given time.  

According to the study, of the 313,000 victims in the state, 79,000 are minor and youth victims of sex trafficking, and about 234,000 adults are victims of labor trafficking.

Researchers also found that traffickers exploit nearly $600 million per year from victims of labor trafficking. Additionally, legal, medical and mental health services spend $6.5 billion providing care and resources to youth and minor victims of human trafficking. Researchers hope to help policymakers provide a broader range of resources to victims as a result of this new knowledge, according to John Nehme, president and CEO of Allies Against Slavery.

“There’s a disparity between the number of victims across the state that we are officially ID-ing and the numbers from the new research,” Nehme said. “We can hopefully use this new information to equip those on the front line to communicate the size of the need for resources and expand the set of solutions and services for these victims.”

Affiliated researcher Matt Kammer-Kerwickz said these numbers serve as a benchmark for the next stage of human trafficking research.

“We recognize that the project is ongoing and that we need to add to these estimates as we move forward,” Kammer-Kerwick said. “The next phase of our research will look more in depth at prevalence and typology of victims of the state, ID regions of the state that have more of a trafficking problem and describe the problem in regions of the state that need more help
than others.”