All human trafficking statistics should be regarded with some skepticism. Human trafficking is an illicit and hidden activity and is therefore exceedingly difficult to study. Research is further hindered by misuse of terms, poor methodology, and lack of adequate funding.
Unfortunately, in a vacuum of reliable data, people tend to unquestioningly cite or simply fabricate trafficking data. Statistics used by established organizations or “experts” are not above critical assessment. Even oft-repeated, canonical statistics have been shown to be based on outdated or non-generalizable studies.
Misleading statistics obscure the true nature of the problem and result in the misallocation of the very limited resources available for anti-trafficking efforts. Further, when these statistics are inevitably exposed as false or methodologically unsound, it undermines the credibility of the whole anti-trafficking movement. While accurate statistics can be difficult to come by, the International Labor Organization is widely regarded as having the best estimates.
Ryan Beck Turner is associate director of advocacy for the Human Trafficking Center at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies. The Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking and Prax(us) both provided feedback to Mr. Turner on this article.