Reports of human trafficking cases in the United States are expected to leap by 25 percent this year over last, an increase linked to round-the-clock texting that makes reporting the crime easier, the head of a trafficking hotline said on Tuesday.
Cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline are expected to hit more than 11,000 by year's end, the most in its 11-year history, its director, Caroline Diemar, said.
Operated by the Washington-based anti-trafficking group Polaris, the hotline provides support for survivors and last year handled nearly 8,800 reported sex and labor trafficking cases.
The projected jump in reported cases illustrates that survivors are finding it easier to seek help, not that the rate of the crime is necessarily on the rise, Diemar told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"More and more people are knowing that there's a resource available to them, and that they can get access to help," she said. "We're not talking about it being an indication of prevalence," she said. "More and more people are reaching out."
The hotline added round-the clock texting this year, accounting for the increase, she said. The number of telephone calls was steady.
"We have seen texting to be a preferred method of communication for survivors," she said.
Polaris does not provide public estimates of the number of potential human trafficking cases but says on its website that the number of cases it handles are "likely only a tiny fraction of the actual problem."
Globally, human trafficking is believed to be a $150 billion-a-year business, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO) and other leading groups that estimate more than 40 million people are victims of modern slavery around the world.
The U.S. government said in a report this year that those most vulnerable to trafficking domestically include children in the welfare and court systems, runaways, American Indians, migrant and undocumented workers, people with disabilities and LGBT+ people.
"It's similar to many other hidden crimes," Diemar said. "The more that it is spoken about and the more awareness that is brought to it, more and more cases are going to come to light."
The hotline based its anticipated final numbers for 2018 on the roughly 8,700 reported cases it got from January through September, compared with about 7,000 in the same time period of 2017.
Its final 2018 report will be released in the spring, it said.