The national survey and Florida statewide survey find support for felony charges for buyers

LEO, FL – A new survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( found that more than seven in 10 of those polled nationwide, and an even higher proportion of those polled separately in Florida, say that public schools should be educating children and youth about human trafficking.

The finding is included in the polling institute’s results on questions asked concerning the public’s awareness of the extent of human trafficking domestically. The survey also asked people about their opinions on possible means of dealing with the offense, from prevention to punishment.

Indignation over human trafficking, which generally entails the imprisonment, purchase, and sale of vulnerable people (sometimes minors) for prostitution and other forms of forced labor, is taking on a higher profile within the United States, as well as internationally. Florida is considered by the law enforcement community and researchers to be one of the top three states with high incidences of the crime.

The institute collected survey results using both a nationally based sample and a separate, parallel sample drawn just from Florida, is the home state of the Saint Leo University Polling Institute and Saint Leo University itself. For the national survey sample, 1,000 respondents were polled between April 22 and April 29, and for the Florida sample, 500 people were polled during the same period. The margin of error for national results is plus or minus 3.0 percentage points and for the Florida results, plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

The survey found strong support from respondents in both geographic groups when they were asked if public schools should teach children about the dangers of trafficking, as shown here.

Should public schools provide education for children/youth about human trafficking?

Possible answers U.S. % FL %
Yes 73.4 79.6
No 11.4 7.0
Unsure 15.2 13.4

In some areas, such instruction is already in place. In Florida, 22 of the state’s 67 school districts provide some information about human trafficking in health classes, according to information reported by the Associated Press. A bill was presented in the Florida Legislature during its recently completed 2019 session that would have made education about trafficking mandatory in health classes statewide, but the bill died in the Florida Senate. (A different bill passed that aims to curtail trafficking with a variety of other measures.)

Those who favor broad education with school-age children, as do the majority of the survey respondents, can be encouraged that some states have mandated education in schools, said Dr. Robert Lucio. He has studied human trafficking and teaches social work at the graduate level at Saint Leo University. Even in the absence of such mandates, communities and individuals can take useful action, Lucio said.

Lucio considers it critical for parents of school-age children to be well-informed. Having all members of a school community—teachers, administrators, cafeteria personnel, school bus drivers—aware of signs of trafficking makes for a safer overall environment, he added. “Being aware of the signs and systems, or even starting local clubs are some ways to raise awareness,” Lucio suggested.

The survey also asked respondents what they consider appropriate criminal charges for those arrested for buying the services of sex workers who have been trafficked. The question, and a related follow-up question, were presented this way in the survey, with the following results.

Should human trafficking buyers be charged with a felony charge instead of the less serious misdemeanor charge?

Possible answers U.S. % FL %
Yes 84.8 86.2
No 7.5 7.0
Unsure 7.7 6.8

The thinking behind bringing serious criminal charges against those who are the alleged buyers in a marketplace of victims being trafficked is to attack the business from the customer side, noted Dr. Lisa Rapp-McCall, who also teaches in the graduate social work program at Saint Leo. “Buyers are the ‘demand,’ and if we can reduce or eliminate them, we will have reduced or eliminated the crime of human trafficking,” she said.  Law enforcement has been encouraging stronger penalties for the convicted, she added.

The responses, with more than 80 percent favoring felony charges, indicate the majority polled agree with this strategy.

Respondents were also asked whether they know people who purchase sex. Both nationally and in Florida, more than 81 percent of the response base said they did not. The balance of responses were split between those who said yes, and those who said they are unsure.

General Awareness of the Crime

The questions discussed above were asked in April for the first time; they were additions to a broader panel of questions the polling institute first posed in October 2018. That fall survey was the institute’s first attempt to determine how deeply informed the public was about the existence and scope of human trafficking.

The April survey followed up on those questions, and found 77.9 percent of those polled nationally said they were either very aware or somewhat aware of human trafficking. That turned out be very similar to the October result, when 76.3 percent nationally answered the same way. In Florida, 79.8 percent said in April they are either very aware or somewhat aware of human trafficking, compared to 82.5 percent in October, which is essentially statistically even.

There was some upward movement nationally in how seriously people regard the issue, though. In April, a combined sum of 87.3 percent said trafficking is a very serious or somewhat serious issue, compared to 79.8 percent in October. The results in Florida remained basically steady from October to April at around 88 percent.

Both nationally and in Florida, respondents identified their three major sources of information on the topic as being national news (about 68 percent), state or local news (about 47 percent), or the internet and websites (about 34 or 35 percent). Government sources or agencies were cited by about 12 percent in both samples. Schools were mentioned nationally and in Florida as a source of information by about 4 percent.

Rapp-McCall said she and Lucio attribute the higher awareness nationally to “the accumulated news articles and efforts by law enforcement and community initiatives. Now that we have increased awareness, we can ask the public to report suspicious activity and talk to their children about prevention.”

In fact, high proportions of survey respondents said they are very likely or somewhat likely to report a suspected incidence of trafficking to authorities: 74 percent nationally and 81.6 percent in Florida in the most recent poll. This was the case with the October findings, as well.

Slightly more people nationally know that there is a National Human Trafficking Hotline number (1-888-373-7888) where people can report their suspicions 24/7. That percent was up to 54.6 percent nationally in April, from 46.9 percent in October. The awareness level in Florida has been steady in a range from 54 to 57 percent between the two surveys.

Aspects of the Crime vs. Anti-Trafficking Measures

In general, both surveys of the two population groups show that people seem more aware of the various ways that criminals can operate than they are of ongoing efforts to curtail trafficking. The chart below makes this evident. The figures show the combined results for the percentages of people who said they were very aware or somewhat aware of the following facts on the topic.

Information people  know/have heard

U.S. – % Aware

October, 2018

U.S. – % Aware

April 2019

FL – % Aware

October 2018

FL – % Aware

April 2019

Many times, children and adults are abducted for either forced labor or prostitution        77.6        84.6        86.8      84.4
Human trafficking, many times, involves selling individuals into forced sex operations        82.1        84.4       87.8      86.6
Human trafficking, many times, involves selling individuals into forced labor          74.2       80.4        82.8        80.2
Many times, children just out of foster care are enticed into either prostitution of forced into labor for sale by abductors           63.2        67.1       70.9       64.2
There is a National Human Trafficking Hotline number           46.9        54.6         56.9       54.6
Human trafficking organizations or initiatives in your own community           41.1         45.8          43.4        42.8
Sex addiction resources in your own community           33.7         33.4          35.4        33.8
There are “Trafficking Free Zones” in America           26.4         24.9          29.9        24.0

Perceptions of Perpetrators

The polling institute introduced into the April survey one more new question to get a sense of the public’s perception of who sex traffickers are likely to be. The institute gave the survey respondents a list of possibilities and asked respondents to indicate all the answers they believe to be true. The most popular answers are shown according to the results found in the national survey, in declining order.

Sex Traffickers Are Thought to Include … U.S. – % FL – %
Organized crime syndicates 67.7 68.0
Drug cartels 63.9 61.4
Gangs 58.1 53.6
Individual pimps 47.6 43.2
Business owners 33.4 35.4
Family members, supposed friends or intimate partners of victims 30.8 27.4
None of these 7.2 7.4
Only males 2.3 1.6

“Citizens,” said Rapp-McCall, “have a good understanding that most traffickers are part of organized crime, drug cartels, and gangs. Still, many do not realize that some traffickers are ‘supposed friends’ or ‘purported intimate partners’ who trick or lure youth or adults into human trafficking.”

What citizens need to do now, the professor advised, is to “stay vigilant and report suspicious activity; talk to their kids about adults who are trying to befriend them or give them gifts and money; and keep track of their online activities. Buying sex is a serious and harmful crime.”

About the Poll

METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from April 22 through April 29, 2019, among a base of 1,000 respondents nationally, using an online instrument. The national sample has an associated margin of error of +/- 3.0 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.

During the same time frame, the same online survey was administered to a sample of 500 residents of Florida. The Florida poll has a +/- 4.5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level (on a composite basis).

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute conducts its surveys using cutting-edge online methodology, which is rapidly transforming the field of survey research. The sample is drawn from large online panels, which allow for random selections that reflect accurate cross sections of all demographic groups. Online methodology has the additional advantage of allowing participants to respond to the survey at a time, place, and speed that is convenient to them, which may result in more thoughtful answers. The Saint Leo University Polling Institute develops the questionnaires, administers the surveys, and conducts analysis of the results. Panel participants typically receive a token incentive—usually $1 deposited into an iTunes or Amazon account—for their participation.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey results about national and Florida politics, public policy issues, Pope Francis’ popularity, and other topics, can also be found here: You can also follow the institute on Twitter @saintleopolls.

Media contacts: Jo-Ann Johnston, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-8237 or (352) 467-0843 (cell/text).     

Mary McCoy, Saint Leo University, University Communications or (352) 588-7118 or (813) 610-8416 (cell/text).

More About Saint Leo University
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