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The 20 Worst Human Trafficking Cities in the United States

Human trafficking is one of the worst crimes in the world, but many people don’t realize how these crimes can happen in their own neighborhoods. Across the United States, human trafficking remains a pressing issue for the justice system and law enforcement, but it is hard to crack down on a secretive industry with so many players.

Unfortunately, while it is an illicit industry, it is a hugely lucrative industry, and Youth Underground estimates that the annual profits of human trafficking are $150 billion and growing. The United States accounts for a shocking 52% of global trafficking.

Thus, the issue of human trafficking is more profound than many people may think, and around the world, the Department of State estimates that 27.6 million human trafficking victims are preyed upon by exploitative traffickers, who want to abuse victims for a range of purposes.

Behind only arms, human trafficking has become the 2nd biggest criminal trade, and it has quickly grown with no signs of dropping back down. Approximately 1/5 of all victims are children, who are forced into labor or are otherwise exploited. Research from the Bureau of Justice suggests that human trafficking is gaining more federal attention as more than 2,000 individuals were referred to U.S. attorneys for trafficking offenses, which is up 49% since 2011.

For those concerned about human trafficking, you’re likely wondering where these crimes most likely take place. The following list will outline the highest human trafficking cities in the U.S. and unpack what makes these cities the worst cities for human trafficking.

How We Compiled This List

There are so many cities throughout the United States, so determining which cities have the worst human trafficking was not as straightforward as finding the cities with the most cases of human trafficking, though that certainly factored into our formula, we also considered severity and proportion of trafficking cases.

We compiled this list by completing the following steps:

  • We began by accessing areas in the United States that had the largest numbers of human trafficking statistics. This helped us determine some hot areas for these types of crimes. However, we didn’t only focus on the biggest sex trafficking cities in the US, we also paid attention to smaller areas that had a higher proportion of trafficking crimes compared to similar areas. We used formulas and models to help us with this venture.
  • Once we had a short list of areas that had high incidences of human trafficking, we could research each area. At that point, we didn’t yet rank the different cities. Instead, we focused on collecting data from government and organizational resources. We looked into human trafficking cases, news, and statistics to get a clear idea of each city’s trafficking crimes.
  • We also looked at the culture in each city that would impact trafficking and enable criminals to take advantage of certain people or geographical considerations. For example, areas near the border are often connected to trafficking because it is easy to find vulnerable victims, who can more easily be manipulated or extorted. Immigrant women are common victims.
  • While our focus was on the trafficking numbers in each city, we also used real-life experiences and stories to add dimension and humanity to our list. At the end of the day, we can report all the numbers and figures we want, but at their core, human trafficking crimes are about the terrible experiences of those who must endure them, and we wanted to capture how these crimes impact individuals.
  • Once we had gathered all this information, we were able to use our compiled fact sheets for each city to then rank them accordingly. With all the information, it was relatively straightforward to create a reliable and thoughtful list of the worst human trafficking cities in the US.

The methodology of our list allows us to create a list that we can stand by, but these factors change often, so we also are dedicated to making updates as needed to provide the clearest, most accurate information, even years later.

20. Tampa, Florida

The state of Florida is known as one of the three states in the US with high levels of human trafficking. Tampa is one of the large cities in Florida where human trafficking is very common.

Tampa bears a large share of Florida’s illicit human labor trade, and one of the main reasons why Tampa attracts a lot of s#x trafficking is easy international access through the city’s airports and seaports. Moreover, Tampa is also known for its sizable adult entertainment industry.

To learn more about human trafficking in Tampa, Hillsborough County has a list of prevention or response resources that can help people be better prepared for human trafficking in Tampa.

19. Columbus, Ohio

The state of Ohio ranks fourth in human trafficking, behind Florida, California, and Texas. One of the main reasons why human trafficking is a serious problem in Columbus and the entire state of Ohio is its large transient and immigrant population. Today, Columbus is fairly well known as one of the biggest s#x trafficking cities in the US for human trafficking crimes.

In January 2024, the Ohio Attorney general reported that six members of a violent human trafficking ring had been caught, dismantling the ring, which led to more than a dozen felony charges being brought. This case is just one of many that show how impactful trafficking is in Columbia.

18. Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Accurate statistics on s#x trafficking in Baton Rouge can be difficult to obtain due to the hidden nature of the crime. However, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were 50,123 signals received regarding s#x trafficking in Louisiana in 2021, via calls, texts, and online tips and chats. Girls and women are the primary victims, and a majority of s#x trafficking takes place in hotels and motels in Baton Rouge.

Baton Rouge is among the top five cities in Louisiana for reported cases of trafficking, along with New Orleans, Shreveport, Lafayette, and Lake Charles. The Baton Rouge Police Department and local non-profit organizations report that they have seen an increase in trafficking cases in recent years, highlighting the need for increased awareness and resources to combat this issue.

17. San Diego, California

As mentioned above, California is one of the major hubs for human trafficking in the US. Therefore, it is not surprising that San Diego is known for this problem as well since it’s such a major city. San Diego’s environment primes it for human trafficking criminals.

The main reason for the growing number of human trafficking victims is the location of the city: it is located right by the Mexican border. Today, San Diego is ranked by the FBI as one of the 13 worst regions in the US with about 8,000 human trafficking victims every year. This makes San Diego one of the biggest s#x trafficking cities in the US.

16. Oakland, California

Human trafficking is becoming more and more common in Oakland CA to the point that the police has teamed up with advocacy groups to try to hold offenders responsible and reduce human trafficking rates.

There are numerous organizations and funds that are confronting human trafficking in Oakland and other nearby towns and areas, but the number of victims continues to grow. Its proximity to the airport makes it easy for traffickers to transport victims in and out of the area.

15. New Orleans, Louisiana

Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing criminal industries in the world, including the United States and certain American cities, such as New Orleans. Hundreds of people in this city in Louisiana become victims of human trafficking.

The main reason is that people continue to lose their housing, which makes them more vulnerable to being victimized. Moreover, New Orleans is considered a hub for human bondage, which makes human trafficking even more prevalent.

14. St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis and the entire state of Missouri are one of the top 20 destinations for human trafficking in the nation. The state is attempting to combat this problem through law enforcement, legislation, and grassroots organizations that work together to battle this problem and increase awareness about human trafficking. A new law was passed in 2022 as a way to protect former victims of s#x trafficking.

13. Chicago, Illinois

Since the mid-2000s, Chicago has been known as a hub for child prostitution, and it is accurate to say that s#x trafficking is one of the major problems in the city. Each year, over 16,000 girls and women become prey to human trafficking, which is equivalent to two women every hour of every day. These are the official statistics, but unofficial statistics are even worse because this crime is so obscure.

12. Baltimore, Maryland

Human trafficking affects all parts of the state of Maryland and especially its major cities like Baltimore.

Human and s#x trafficking occur in many different forms in Baltimore. They include child trafficking, elderly trafficking, adult trafficking, and even family trafficking (trafficking of family members). The Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force (MHTTF) was founded in 2007, and their primary goal is to put an end to human trafficking.

Baltimore’s Human Trafficking Collaborative seeks to understand the human trafficking that plagues Baltimore and offer support to fight this issue.

11. San Francisco, California

As mentioned above, human trafficking is a serious problem in California, and the number of human trafficking cases keeps growing. That is also true of San Francisco, though not to the extent of some of the California cities on this list.

San Francisco is a large city in the Bay Area, where human and s#x trafficking is very common. It is k known for being common in massage parlors, hotels, and the porn industry, but it is widespread throughout San Francisco.

10. Orlando, Florida

According to the statistics, Orlando is the third-ranking city in the United States in the volume of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which means trafficking is a huge issue in this city in Florida. Both s#x trafficking and labor trafficking are common in Orlando and all of Central Florida.

The organization SAFE in Central Florida seeks to fight exploitation like human trafficking in Orlando and other areas around Orlando. This organization has addressed the problems through awareness and initiatives.

9. Dallas, Texas

It’s not just the Texas Triangle that has a problem with human trafficking. Another city in Texas that also has a reputation for major human trafficking offenders is Dallas. Today, it is one of the top ten cities in the nation with the most s#x trafficking. Every night, there are over 400 girls on Dallas streets, and the average age when these teenage girls enter the s#x trade is 13.

One of the biggest problems in Dallas that is contributing to the increasing s#x trafficking is the growing number of homeless people. Officially, there are over 3,000 young homeless people in Dallas. These people are easy targets and are often willing to take riskier chances because of their circumstances.

8. Detroit, Michigan

Back in 2021, Michigan became one of the top sex trafficking cities in the US. A major reason why Detroit is a popular Michigan city for human trafficking is because of its international border. The many large events that Detroit hosts make it easy for traffickers to hide and get away with their crimes more easily. For example, the auto show is a large annual event that many traffickers take advantage of.

Human trafficking is so rampant in Detroit that authorities are providing training to help people become more aware that it exists, to hopefully help put an end to this horrible crime. However, for the time being, human trafficking stories still show that while you can take preventative steps, it takes a long time to get rid of human trafficking, especially as the industry grows.

7. Washington, DC

No one would ever believe that the capital city of the United States has a major s#x-trafficking problem. However, as an international hub, it certainly isn’t safe from human traffickers. Wealth disparity and other issues mean that there are many victims in Washington, DC, who are at the mercy of predators.

With an abundance of homeless children and adults, many people make easy victims. Traffickers use various methods to lure victims, including the promise of a glamorous life, and many of their ploys include social media, newspapers, magazines, and printed media ads. Victims often believe they’re applying for positions at massage parlors, but once they accept the “position”, they’re forced to perform sexual acts in addition to providing standard massage services.

The DC Human Trafficking Task Force has been around since 2004 to help victims and prevent future cases. Hopefully, they can tackle this huge issue.

6. Atlanta, Georgia

Georgia may seem to be as sweet as a peach, but it has a significant human trafficking problem that needs to be acknowledged in Atlanta. In February 2023, the Atlanta authorities had 46 criminals under indictment for human trafficking, and more than 116 children were rescued from traffickers in 2022. Other cases continue to develop in Atlanta.

The Hartsfield – Jackson Atlanta International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the world, featuring more than 260,000 travelers on a daily basis. The fact that Atlanta is so busy is the main reason why human trafficking is so prevalent in this area.

Unfortunately, Atlanta is quickly becoming # 1 for human trafficking crimes, but for now, it is bad but certainly not the worst human trafficking city on the list.

5. Los Angeles, California

California is one of the primary offenders of human trafficking, so it’s not surprising that Los Angeles is known for being a hotspot for this horrible crime. LA County has recognized its human trafficking issues, knowing how their area provides a haven for dreamers that can so easily become a nightmare. Predators know that LA is a great place to find victims who are already primed to accidentally fall into bad situations.

Unfortunately, the problem is only worsening. One reason for the increasing number of s#x trafficking victims in Los Angeles is that hundreds of people flock to the City of Angels to chase their dreams. Predators promise that they can make victims’ dreams come true before forcing them into exploitative situations. This is why Los Angeles is considered to be one of the highest human trafficking cities in the US.

4. New York City, New York

New York is known for being one of the most exciting cities in the world as well as one of the most populated, meaning that there’s plenty of room for a range of issues, including human trafficking. With over 8 million residents, New York City is known for having a high number of criminal organizations and a poor population.

Human trafficking is, unfortunately, one of those criminal organizations. The sheer number of people living in and visiting New York City makes it easy for traffickers to exploit victims in plain sight. Human trafficking is becoming increasingly more prevalent, forcing authorities to pass stricter laws and develop more creative ways of catching criminals.

To help combat human trafficking, the King’s County District Attorney has put together a resources guide for human trafficking, which helps highlight initiatives working against human trafficking as well as other resources for those who are concerned about or are victims of human trafficking.

3. Miami, Florida

Even though most people look at Florida as being one of the best vacation destinations, this state ranks third in the nation for human trafficking. According to Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, 1 in 3 teenage runaways are recruited to become sex slaves within 48 hours of leaving home. Why is Miami-Dade such a popular city for human trafficking? The number one reason is because of tourism, as Miami remains one of the most visited cities in both the United States and the world. Another reason is because of Miami’s balmy year-round weather. When it’s cold and snowy in northern states, traffickers are traveling to Miami with their victims in tow.

It’s quite a challenge for law enforcement to manage the human trafficking problem in Miami because of the constant travel, both in and out of the city. Additionally, traffickers benefit from Miami’s nightlife. Traffickers are aware of all this, which is another reason why Miami is a hub for human trafficking.

2. Las Vegas, NV

Most people aren’t surprised that Sin City has one of the highest human trafficking rates in the U.S. According to a non-profit organization, Nevada Child Seekers, in Nevada, over 8,000 children go missing each year in the state of Nevada, some of whom are related to trafficking.

An eight-year study of Las Vegas child sex trafficking suggested the type of victim that was most common in Las Vegas. 65.5% of children were African American and 19.3% were Hispanic. Most of these victims were girls, and the average age of victims was 16. Of these children, 12% were wards of the state, 63.5% had a history of running away, and a mere 40% were ever reported missing. To make matters worse, 28% of these victims had been victims of sex trafficking in the past.

With so much going on in Las Vegas, it can be hard to track down and stop human traffickers, but the city understands how urgent this task is. Human trafficking is especially high in Las Vegas during major events. This is why an increase in s#x predators is expected when the city hosts even such as the Super Bowel 2024 game.

1. Houston, Texas

Although California is one of the number one states for s#x trafficking, Texas, and specifically Houston, has California beat. Three major cities in Texas combined, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio, are known as the “Texas Triangle,” which is comprised of several interstates, making it easy for human trafficking to go undetected. The fact that Houston is located so close to the Mexican border further increases the prevalence of this awful crime.

According to a study conducted by the University of Texas, Texas has over 313,000 human trafficking victims, with a large portion of them in Houston. It’s no wonder that Houston has become the top s#x trafficking city in the US. Estimates suggest that 79,000 underage people have been s#x trafficked in Texas, and this is just one portion of the entire trafficking picture.

Other forms of trafficking, particularly labor trafficking, are also common, and at times, trafficked victims can be used in illicit industries, such as drug trafficking. Thus, Houston offers many opportunities for those who want to exploit others. Fortunately, in 2015, Houston’s Mayor’s Office became the first in US city to organize a position to address trafficking through a municipal lens, showing a willingness to make big changes.

FAQs for Human Trafficking in the U.S.

What Are The Most Common Types of Human Trafficking in the United States?

The three most common types of human trafficking in the United States are s#x trafficking, debt bondage, and forced labor. According to the U.S. Department of State, forced labor (also known as involuntary servitude) is the biggest sector of trafficking in the world. Other areas of trafficking include domestic servitude, child soldier recruitment, or organ trafficking.

Where Does Human Trafficking Tend to Occur in the United States?

In the United States, human trafficking usually occurs around international travel hubs and in the states and areas with large immigrant populations, such as California, Texas, and Florida. It can happen in smaller areas as well, but perpetrators usually target areas with larger victim pools and where their behavior is harder to detect.

It is important to note that it is a myth that people are trafficked by strangers. Most victims are trafficked by someone they already know. Victims are often groomed by predators to keep them pliant and unable to escape trafficking.

How Bad Is the Problem Of Human Trafficking in the United States?

In the US, human trafficking is considered one of the most serious problems. Many people think of sexual trafficking first, but forced labor is another huge human trafficking issue. The United States is officially one of the worst countries in the world for human trafficking. There are almost 200,000 human trafficking incidents reported in the United States annually. Perpetrators often have multiple victims, and many incidents go unreported.

This includes sex trafficking that affects the female population of the United States. It is estimated that between 15,000 and 50,000 children and women are forced into sexual activities every year. It is difficult to research the official number of victims, but it continues to grow.

How Do Traffickers Catch Their Victims?

Traffickers are professionals at identifying people with needs and vulnerabilities. They often exploit people they know to gain victims., They may find their victims in such places as hotels, bus stops, truck stops, strip clubs, shelters, or local malls. They usually pick a person who does not have a safe place to stay, including homeless people, or who is emotionally or physically vulnerable in some way.

However, traffickers no longer just use the “traditional” techniques. Many have kept up with the times, and they can use online spaces to identify and target victims. They have entirely new means of staying in power over victims.

Conclusion

Human trafficking remains one of the most serious issues in the world and in the United States, but it is one that most people underestimate. It’s time to recognize the plague of human trafficking so that you can protect yourself, your family, and your community from malignant actors.

In this article, we talked about the 20 worst human trafficking cities in the US, including some of cities like New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Houston; however, it does not mean that a human trafficking problem does not exist in other cities and states of the US. Although certain parties are more at risk than others, especially those with vulnerabilities, human trafficking can occur to anyone, anywhere, and with increased use of technology, victims are often found and targeted online.

The good news is that even though trafficking remains a serious issue, there are plenty of organizations, foundations, and institutions trying to help its victims and prevent human trafficking. To learn more about how you can take part in fighting against human trafficking, check out the U.S. Department of State’s guide or learn more from organizations like Freedom Network USA, the Polaris Project, or the Advocates for Human Rights.

Stay Safe, Stay in Touch, and Stay Out of Dangerous Situations

A quick glance at this list should help you see that there’s nowhere in the world safe from human trafficking. But you can learn more about human trafficking and how you can help at the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. The more you know, the better you can stay safe while helping others stay safe, too.

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Dana Hanson

Written by Dana Hanson

Dana has extensive professional writing experience including technical and report writing, informational articles, persuasive articles, contrast and comparison, grant applications, and advertisement. She also enjoys creative writing, content writing on nearly any topic (particularly business and lifestyle), because as a lifelong learner, she loves to do research and possess a high skill level in this area. Her academic degrees include AA social Sci/BA English/MEd Adult Ed & Community & Human Resource Development and ABD in PhD studies in Indust & Org Psychology.

Read more posts by Dana Hanson

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