Because human trafficking is a black market industry whose victims are often unaware of their legal rights and under-supported legally, it can be difficult to estimate how many victims there are of what kind of trafficking. Guess work is often the best recourse scholars and activists have, but not all estimates are equal. Any statistic that is not clear and transparent about its methodology or exactly what it is describing should not be shared. 

Prevalence statistics attempt to understand how much human trafficking occurs in an area. Sometimes, information that claims to represent prevalence actually shares the number of identified cases or suspected cases of trafficking, which can underrepresent actual prevalence (unless your investigators are functioning near perfectly). Other times, prevalence is extrapolated from a variety of indicators. What indicators are chosen and how they are thought to correlate to trafficking can wildly impact what statistic is created. 

Differences in prevalence statistics should not be used to suggest growth in human trafficking (which is even less well understood) unless the area in question and methodology is the same between the statistics. 

For example, the Global Slavery Index (GSI) is a non-governmental organization that uses different methodologies to estimate country-by-country trafficking prevalence and combine these estimates to create a global prevalence statistic. It is often compared to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's initial statistic, which combined national estimates of trafficking that focused heavily on transnational victims. Comparisons of these numbers should not be used to suggest growth in human trafficking, which is still widely unknown. 

Estimated number of human trafficking victims 

45 million 

21 million 




(Global Slavery Index)


So much of the information available concerning modern day slavery has to do with viral stories or internet fads. 


Rachel Lloyd, former human trafficking victim and founder of GEMS, summarizes the conflict about the Superbowl it in her article to the Huffington Post. Below is an excerpt- click here to read her full article. 

"For the last few years, the Super Bowl has been touted as the biggest trafficking event, especially for minors, in the country. While there have definitely been some reported cases, the statistics just don't bear out this claim. The real crime is happening when no one's looking and no one cares, not when every media outlet, advocate and cop has its sights set on it. As the founder and executive director of GEMS, the nation's largest direct service provider to commercially sexually exploited and domestically trafficked girls and young women, and as a survivor and a long-time public advocate for raising awareness of this issue, I am probably surprising some people by saying this. But, frankly, it needs to be said. Hyperbole only obscures the true issue and damages the movement's credibility. It's critical that as a field that we pay attention to statistics, ensure that the information we're putting out there is accurate, and make sure people focus on the larger systemic issues that exacerbate and make young people so vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking, instead of focusing on media-friendly quick fixes and sensationalized stories."

"​​As a movement, we've worked hard over the last decade to get people to recognize that commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking is even happening in the U.S., and sometimes the anger and outrage at what we're seeing -- girls beaten, raped, sold and then frequently criminalized and scorned by society -- can overtake a balanced response. In a effort to get people to care about this issue, we've been less than careful with the statistics and in an effort to get the media to cover this story we've often reduced it to the most basic elements. (I've been guilty of this too.) We've focused on quick fixes and good vs. evil responses that rarely address the true causes or empower the young people that we're serving. In doing so, we've played right into the hands of those who'd like to deny that this is even happening, those who are profiting handsomely from the continued exploitation. The truth is that there are likely more girls and young women who are trafficking victims being sold on than there are being brought to the Super Bowl this year. We don't need to hype anything up or sensationalize it, the truth is bad enough."


The concern that Wayfair, a home goods corporation, was selling missing children disguised as furniture pieces on their website became widespread in 2020. A Reddit post describing cabinets and throw pillows costing between $5,000 and $15,000 and labelled with women's names started a conspiracy theory alleging that young, female trafficking victims were being sold online in this open format. The Department of Homeland Security paused its ongoing investigations to respond to the viral panic created by these claims, and investigated Wayfair. 

Despite the DHS' findings that no people were being sold on its website, and despite numerous journalists investigating the missing persons cases that were being shared online and finding most of the people were no longer missing, this story continued to spread. Young Samara Duplessis, one of the previously missing children caught up in the conspiracy theory, shared her story with the Washington Post

The Wayfair story's focus on saving innocent young girls (which ignoring male child victims) and the sensationalized speculations of children being shipped in cabinets and containers exemplify harmful trafficking narratives. These stories distract from the reality that most victims undergo psychological coercion, not kidnapping; that young boys are also sex trafficking victims; that Wayfair's most likely participation in trafficking is not kidnapped children sold for sex, but labor exploitation in its furniture construction. 


The internet and social media sensation of the #BringBackOurGirls Campaign did much to put pressure on governments for action. People followed the story for months after the girls were abducted in April 2014, and for a time, the US and the UK sent troops in to help the Nigerian government to find terrorist and trafficker Boko Haram. 

Since then, however, with Ebola, and ISIS, and Kim Kardashian, most of the world hasn't been paying much attention. Many who followed the campaign at the beginning do not know it ended, or that it hasn't. The girls have still not been rescued. Boko Haram's insurgency has recently been defeated (according to claims by the Nigerian government), but he has not been arrested. For a time, the schoolgirls' home town of Chibook was taken by Boko Haram's militants, and he released a statement saying that most of the kidnapped girls had been sold into forced marriage. On December 14, 2014, 8 months after the original abduction, Boko Haram abducted 185 more Nigerian women and children, and he has continued to wreak havoc in Nigeria since

Check out these books for more information on #BokoHaram and the #BringBackOurGirls Campaign.


Joseph Kony WAs the military leader of a group who call themselves The Lord's Resistance Army. The LRA are famous for abducting children in Uganda and enslaving them as child soldiers and sex slaves. Chances are that, if you've heard of him, it was through the viral video called "Invisible Children: Stop Kony" that circulated in 2012. When Invisible Children came under scrutiny as to how they were handling the funds that had been donated, skepticism grew and interest dwindled.

Joseph Kony did not begin his terrorist career in 2012 when he was first noticed by the international community. He began gaining a following in the 1980s, and was one of the first men on the wanted list of the International Criminal Court in 2005. He is still wandering free in Uganda, still evading capture and still capturing and enslaving children. For more information on child soldiers, click here. Make sure that you know the facts and not the fad.