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Globally, an estimated 25 million people are subjected to human trafficking and forced labor,[1] which is responsible for an estimated $150 billion annually in illicit profits.[2] However less than 1% of the victims are identified.[3] The United Nations estimates that 27.6 million people are forced into sex trafficking or labor, even though the government is only able to identify 115,324 victims which means that there’s still 99.6% of the victims are still trapped by their traffickers.[4] The internet is the number one recruiting tool for victims.[5] Otherwise, victims are often recruited by a family member or caregiver (33%), an intimate partner (28%), or even an employer (22%).  “Without restorative care, 80% of survivors will return to their traffickers.[6] 75% of US states do not have safe house programs specifically for trafficking survivors.”[7]

The National Human Trafficking Hotline receives calls, texts, messages, emails and other forms of communication as ways of reporting trafficking across the country.[8] From January 1, 2021, to December 31, 2021, they received 578 reports about human trafficking and issues related to human trafficking in Virginia.[9] The number of substantive calls to exclude hangups, wrong numbers and missed calls was 583.[10] The victims are female, male, transgender, foreign nationals, and even children (25% of those reported were minors).[11] Virginia had the 16th highest signal volume of all fifty states and Washington D.C.[12] These statistics are non-cumulative, and, in some cases, there were multiple victims involved.

Hampton Roads is considered a hotspot for trafficking due to its port, tourism, and the I-95 corridor.[13] Its port is the deepest harbor on the East Coast, and the sixth largest ‘containerized’ operation in the United States,[14] and is home to Naval Station Norfolk – the largest naval base in the world.[15] Dubbed ‘Coastal Virginia,’ Hampton Roads draws tourists from all over the world to its beaches, museums, and many colonial-era historic sites.[16] Interstate 95 is the longest north-south interstate in America.[17] It runs directly through Hampton Roads, from Miami, Florida to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, and Canada.[18]  It is the principle road between all major cities on the Eastern Seaboard.[19] 

The first time that trafficking survivors come into contact with law enforcement officers is often as an offender, not as a victim. They are often arrested for crimes such as prostitution, weapon possession, identity theft and or drugs- usually as a direct result of being trafficked. A survey taken in 2016 found a majority of victims reported 100% of their arrests were a direct result of being trafficked.[20]  In the same survey, over 50% of victims reported that they were first trafficked as minors,[21] and about 50% of victims reported having at least one criminal charge as a minor due to trafficking.[22]

Having a criminal record impacts the survivors ability to fully reintegrate into society. As of 2018 80% of employers run background checks.[23] If a criminal record is discovered, it limits earning potential by 50%.[24] There are more than 27,000 jobs that restrict employment of those who possess a criminal conviction.[25] It can also lead to removal or deportation as well as denial of visa or green card.[26] It can affect child custody or visitation, or even the survivor’s ability to care for their child.[27] In one survey, the majority of victims were denied housing—and over 70% were denied employment—because of a criminal record.[28] Victims of trafficking can be disqualified from education since 60 –80% of public institutions and 40 –50% for public institutions require criminal history questions as part of the undergrad admissions process.[29] Student loans are affected by certain drug convictions.[30] Voting rights, depending on the state, can be temporality taken away or permanently revoked.[31] Travel can be restricted or even questioned, which forces the victim to be retraumatized having to explain to someone who may not be understanding of the situation.[32] 

National Survivor Study conducted a study with 457 sex and labor trafficking survivors. Of those surveyed 69% reported that their criminal record prevented them from getting or keeping a job.[33] 59% reported that they were not able to get good safe housing as a result.[34] 63% reported that they were no longer able to get education, training or a professional license.[35] 35% reported that it affected their child custody.[36]


[1] Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage, INTERNATIONAL LABOUR ORGANIZATION AND WALK FREE FOUNDATION, 5 (2017), https://www.ilo.org/global/publications/books/WCMS_575479/lang–en/index.htm.

[2] Profits and Poverty: the Economics of Forced Labour, INTERNATIONAL LABOUR ORGANIZATION, 13  (2014), https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/publications/profits-of-forced-labour-2014/lang–en/index.htm.

[3] John Cotton Richmond, Less Than Half of 1 Percent of Human Trafficking Victims Are Identified. That Needs to Change., ATLANTIC COUNCIL (June 16, 2023), https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/less-than-half-of-1-percent-of-human-trafficking-victims-are-identified-that-needs-to-change/.

[4] Id.

[5] Polaris Analysis of 2021 Data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline, POLARIS, 1 (2021), https://polarisproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Polaris-Analysis-of-2021-Data-from-the-National-Human-Trafficking-Hotline.pdf.

[6] Id.

[7] Human Trafficking Awareness Month Statistics, SAFE HOUSE PROJECT (Jan. 12), https://safehouseproject.org/blog/humantraffickingawarenessmonthstatistics.

[8] NATIONAL HUMAN TRAFFICKING HOTLINE, https://humantraffickinghotline.org/en (last visited Sept. 27, 2023).

[9] Virginia, NATIONAL HUMAN TRAFFICKING HOTLINE, https://humantraffickinghotline.org/en/statistics/virginia.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Ericka Harrison-Bey, Hidden in Plain Sight: Human Trafficking in Hampton Roads, Old Dominion University (Jan. 7, 2022), https://ww1.odu.edu/announcements/faculty-staff/2022/1/27/hidden_in_plain_sigh.

[14] Port of Virginia, HAMPTON ROADS ALIANCE (2023), https://hamptonroadsalliance.com/port-of-virginia/.

[15] Id.

[16] Coastal Virginia Hampton Roads, VIRGINIA IS FOR LOVERS (2024), https://www.virginia.org/places-to-visit/regions/hampton-roads/.

[17] Interstate 95, WIKIPEDIA.ORG (2022), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_95.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20]  Impact of Criminal Arrest and Detention on Survivors of Human Trafficking, NATIONAL SURVIVOR NETWORK, 5 (Aug. 2016), https://nationalsurvivornetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/VacateSurveyFinal.pdf.

[21] Id. at 3.

[22] Id.

[23] Criminal Record Relief for Trafficking Survivors Report, POLARIS (2024), https://polarisproject.org/criminal-record-relief-for-trafficking-survivors-report/.

[24] Id.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Impact of Criminal Arrest and Detention on Survivors of Human Trafficking, NATIONAL SURVIVOR NETWORK, 8 (Aug. 2016), https://nationalsurvivornetwork.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/VacateSurveyFinal.pdf.

[29] Criminal Record Relief for Trafficking Survivors Report, POLARIS (2024), https://polarisproject.org/criminal-record-relief-for-trafficking-survivors-report/.

[30] Id.

[31] Id.

[32] Id.

[33] Id.

[34] Id.

[35] Id.

[36] Id.