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Assessing the Problem

To gain support for the formation of a task force, it is important that the rationale for formation is based on an analysis of available data and the experiences of field and frontline personnel in law enforcement, victim services, and social service organizations. Task forces should conduct an assessment in order to discover if activity within vulnerable populations or behaviors and practices within suspect locales, establishments, criminal groups, or individuals is indicative of human trafficking.

It may be helpful to remember the phrase “We don’t know what we don’t know.” Often it is necessary to offer some basic training on human trafficking so that law enforcement, victim service providers, and social service organizations can determine if they handled cases in the past that may have included human traffickingWhen offering first-time training to potential identifiers of human trafficking, such as law enforcement, service providers, and emergency room doctors and nurses, it can be helpful to ask this question at the conclusion of the training: “Now that you learned about human trafficking, how many of you suspect you may have come into contact with a victim in the past, but did not recognize it because you did not know anything about human trafficking?” It is unfortunate that many potential victims could have been identified and assisted.

Key Concept: State vs. Federal Law

State laws often differ from the federal definition of human trafficking. It is important for Task Force members to have a strong understanding of all the legal tools that could be employed to address trafficking. Click here for more information about state anti-trafficking laws

Even though all 50 states now have their own laws regarding human trafficking, state laws may differ from the federal definition of human trafficking, and it can take several years for these laws to become routinely enforced. As a result, trafficking investigations and prosecutions at the state level may be delayed; therefore, law enforcement arrest data may not reflect current or significant levels of trafficking. The lack of arrests should never be construed as evidence that human trafficking is not occurring in a jurisdiction. It is important for the task force to understand all the legal tools that could be employed in the fight against human trafficking.

When forming a task force, the following parameters should be considered, along with potential sources of data collection and analysis that may help to identify areas of vulnerability and exploitation. Members should identify all potential trafficking in the community (and the available resources) in order to form the most effective task force.

Parameters to Consider

Sources of Supporting Data

Magnitude of the area’s susceptibility (socioeconomic, cultural, and demographic factors)


  • Census data on population growth in immigrant communities
  • Data on migration patterns and labor issues
  • Geographic indicators (e.g., highways, borders)
  • Data on presence of low-wage work within the area (e.g., manufacturing, agricultural, industrial, domestic worker, and hospitality settings)
  • Federal and state labor department data

Documented cases of human trafficking

Proximity to other federal Task Force groups

Historical crime indicators determined from preliminary assessment


  • Local law enforcement intelligence on criminal group dynamics
  • Local law enforcement intelligence on vice activities
  • Underage prostitution arrest data
  • Truancy arrest data
  • Visa fraud and other
  • Booking data from local jails and other correctional institutions
  • Data involving populations with Continued Presence, T or U visas

Presence of populations vulnerable to human trafficking

  • Data on runaway and homeless youth
  • NGO data on existing communities in the area, including immigrant populations and other groups
  • NGO data on providing services to victims of crime (domestic violence, sexual assault, local health departments or emergency rooms, legal providers)
  • Strategic interviews of community members in suspected activity areas


Variation in Data From Law Enforcement and Victim Service Organizations

Data collected from law enforcement entities and victim service organizations regarding human trafficking tips, potential victims, and cases often look very different from one another. For the purposes of the assessment phase, it is simply important to recognize that both forms of data can add up to a quality assessment. When analyzing the information, do so with a broad view of the full scope of human trafficking in all its forms. Many types of human trafficking occur under conditions that go unnoticed and are significantly underreported to authorities.

For this reason (among others), victims of trafficking are often identified by victim service providers or law enforcement in the context of other types of crime, such as domestic violence or sexual assault. It should be remembered that the best way to increase the identification of trafficking victims is with continued training for victim service providers and law enforcement personnel, and through proactive investigations.

Data on Individuals Arrested for Various Related Crimes

Trafficking in persons should be understood as a process rather than as a single offense. During the trafficking process, offenders usually perpetrate a number of different offenses. Offenses are also committed in furtherance or protection of the human trafficking operation. Other crimes, such as money laundering and tax evasion, are secondary, but essential to protect the illicit proceeds of the trafficking activity.

There may be linkages between trafficking operations and other criminal offenses, which can provide useful data for an assessment. For example, many law enforcement agencies continue to arrest minors (under age 18) for prostitution offenses, despite the fact that minors used for commercial sex are victims of human trafficking under federal law, and often state law. Individuals may also be arrested for forced labor/involuntary servitude, alien smuggling, truancy, and other related crimes. This practice may be the result of a lack of training, long-held policies or local laws, a lack of awareness regarding crimes related to human trafficking, or other reasons. When examining law enforcement data, it can be fruitful to determine how many minors are arrested for prostitution, or how many individuals are arrested for involuntary servitude or alien smuggling.

Engaging Community Stakeholders

Engaging with community service providers and stakeholders during the assessment phase can assist in data collection. It can also provide an opportunity to begin assessing strengths and challenges related to investment, interest, and potential resources.

One such way to begin this process involves conducting a community meeting on human trafficking. Invitees may include representatives from any and all points of entry and identification into the services system. These may include providers from the following arenas:

  • Child/adult protection
  • Courts (state and/or federal)
  • Churches/Faith-Based organizations
  • Defense attorneys
  • Domestic violence/sexual assault
  • Immigrant-specific advocacy and services
  • Immigration services
  • Criminal and civil legal services
  • Emergency or low income medical clinics
  • Youth services
  • Homeless services
  • Substance abuse treatment centers
  • Low income mental health clinics
  • School social workers/counselors
  • Food banks
  • Social service agencies

A community meeting allows attendees to hear a clear message regarding the assessment and its goals, while also gaining feedback about the need for a task force. Survey information regarding current identification of human trafficking within each services arena, interest and investment in committing time and energy to the development of a task force, and suggestions on how to engage absent organizations can all be collected during such a meeting. Those leading the meeting should be prepared to answer basic questions regarding the federal and state definitions of this crime, as well as provide a transparent explanation of the assessment and plans to move forward with next steps once the data are collected and analyzed. It might also be helpful to come prepared with ideas for how community partners can become involved in pursuing next steps, as enthusiasm and interest may increase in a community meeting atmosphere. This may include signing up for training or participation in outreach or public awareness efforts. Alternatively, key task force partners may choose to discuss in advance where the community groups can be most effective, perhaps facilitating access to local hospital emergency departments to train staff on how to identify trafficking victims, or providing a location and support staff for an awareness event. This type of community meeting can lay the groundwork for a victim services needs assessment that will be helpful in the establishment of a task force.

Community groups are usually looking for direction in how best to support task force efforts, and will appreciate when task force leadership offers direction or, at least, takes time to engage with community groups to ensure everyone’s efforts are aligned. While this may appear to go beyond the scope of some task force members’ responsibilities, community groups—when left out of this discussion—may launch efforts that are well meaning, but are of little value to the community’s response to trafficking, or even disruptive in the response to trafficking.

It is important that task force leadership realizes the potential impact of community groups and is willing to engage these groups for the benefit of the collaboration.

For additional information and tools, visit the Resource page for Section 2.3 Assessing the Problem.