Information sources used by local police to estimate the scope and nature of sex trafficking

Hyunjung Cheon, Charles Katz, Vincent Webb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Although trafficking of persons for commercial sex has been increasingly recognized as a community level problem most estimates of the prevalence of sex trafficking in the USA are made by federal entities and vary depending on the data sources used. Little is known about how local police agencies assess and understand sex trafficking in their own communities. The paper aims to discuss this issue. Design/methodology/approach: To help fill this gap, the current study using survey data from a sample of local police agencies across the USA (n=72) examines law enforcement agencies’ knowledge of and experience with addressing local sex trafficking problems in their jurisdiction. Findings: The majority of police agencies reported that sex trafficking is a problem in their jurisdictions and that they have a special unit that has a primary responsibility for addressing sex trafficking issues. Agencies with a special unit tend to use multiple sources of information including official record, intelligence data and personal experience to estimate the community’s trafficking problems when compared to agencies without a unit; however, most of agencies primarily depend on their professional experience. Originality/value: This is the first study to examine the data sources used by local police agencies to estimate the scope and nature of their community’s sex trafficking problem, and the findings have important policy implications for understanding the reliability and validity of these estimates, and for their potential use to develop and implement data driven responses to sex trafficking problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019


  • Information sources
  • Local police
  • Reliability
  • Sex trafficking
  • Validity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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