2021 Federal Human Trafficking Report Key Takeaways

Every year the Human Trafficking Institute releases a report compiling data from every federal criminal case since The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. The purpose of the report is to provide a deep dive into the U.S. federal response to human trafficking to determine what is working and where improvements can be made.


Here are the 7 key takeaways from this year’s report


  1. 92% of the new criminal cases filed in federal court in 2021 were for sex trafficking.

Human trafficking is broken into two categories, commercial sex trafficking and labor trafficking. While both forms can be tricky to prove and prosecute, labor trafficking has notoriously posed its own set of challenges. While only 8% of the new cases in 2021 were for labor this is a 22% increase from the previous year.

Guardian Group, by design, has always been hyper-focused on preventing and disrupting the sex trafficking of women and children in the United States. This will remain our mission until this crime no longer exists.

  1. 85% of defendants use the internet as their primary method of soliciting buyers.

The internet has allowed this crime to grow at an incredible rate. The above further reinforces the internet’s role in making it easier for a trafficker to connect with a buyer. This crime is continuing to move off the streets. By moving online not only does a trafficker have a larger reach, but it also makes it more complicated for law enforcement to police.

Guardian Group’s offensive approach and the purpose of Project 1591® is to provide a research resource for law enforcement across the nation. By enabling volunteers to search the internet and identify potential victims of trafficking we scale the response to this rapidly increasing problem. Once a victim is identified the information is given to local law enforcement, making their response time faster, resulting in more victims offered a path to freedom.

  1. 66% of the victims in new sex trafficking cases were minors.

Children. Most of the victims represented were between the ages of 14-17 years-old with 2 being between the age of 0 and 13 years-old. Ages are broken down this way because the punishment changes if the minor victim is below the age of 14, going from 15 years of jail time down to a 10-year sentence if the victim is 14 or older.

A trafficker rarely blatantly advertises a minor victim as a minor. Instead, they use varying code languages to let the buyer know that the victim is underage. While Guardian Group will work to identify victims between the age of 18-25 years old, we focus more heavily on finding the advertisements that may include a minor.

There are two reasons for this, first, we are talking about children. No one should ever have to experience this level of trauma, but especially not a child. Second, law enforcement across the country will drop whatever they have going on to respond to a minor victim. These cases are also typically easier to prosecute, as more complexities arise once someone turns 18 years old.

  1. 96% of defendants in sex trafficking cases were convicted of at least one crime.

Trafficking cases are complex and can be messy. Historically a victim is rarely a good witness. After experiencing extensive trauma, working with a prosecution team, and reliving every detail can be too much for many to handle.

This conviction rate represents hours, days and in some cases years of dedication and hard work from the law enforcement agencies and the legal teams responsible for putting these predators behind bars. They are the true heroes in this space!

  1. 100% of the victims in new sex trafficking cases filed in 2021 were female.

This rings true to what we see daily, however, both the report and Guardian Group recognize that when you are looking at publicly available information you may not be able to determine gender identity accurately. Because of this the number of persons within the LGBTQ community may be underrepresented.

  1. Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram were the top 3 platforms used in recruiting sex trafficking victims that were recruited online.

73% of the victims represented were recruited on one of these 3 social media platforms. The remaining 27% of victims were recruited on 1 of 19 pother platforms. One of the most frequently asked questions we encounter is, “what app is safe for my child?” The answer is none of them. The internet allows predators to interact with potential victims at a much higher rate than ever before. While these 3 platforms saw the most activity, there are 19 others that were used, further reinforcing that a predator will use any platform they like to recruit. The sites range from dating apps, social media apps and communication tools such as google hangout.

Here is our quick checklist of where to start when it comes to social media and dating app safety.

  1. 1% of referrals to law enforcement that resulted in a federal trafficking case prosecuted came from a nonprofit.

A referral to law enforcement means that someone reached out and reported a potential victim, prompting a law enforcement reaction. The goal of Project 1591® is to see this 1% referral number drastically increase. By crowdsourcing volunteers to search for potential victims online we expand Guardian Group’s ability to illuminate these potential victims to law enforcement. This community-wide approach will result in more victims offered a path to freedom.

Join Project 1591® today and help us increase the 1%.