Data shows some people may not be aware they can alert authorities to suspicious situations   

ST. LEO, FL – A recent survey by the Saint Leo University Polling Institute ( found that three-quarters of adults surveyed nationwide believe that human trafficking, or trafficking in persons, is a serious or very serious problem in the United States. Still, broad portions of the public reported they were not aware of specific resources and tools available to everyday people to help stem human trafficking.

For instance, the survey found that one in five people both nationally and in Florida did not know there is a National Human Trafficking Hotline (The number 888-373-7888 accepts calls and text messages from anywhere in the United States 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in more than 200 languages including English and Spanish. People who need to text are advised to text HELP to the number 233733, which corresponds to the phrase BEFREE.)

The release of the survey data was timed for early in the calendar year as January was designated National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in the United States in 2010. Law enforcement authorities and victim advocates want the public to recognize signs of potential trafficking activity and alert authorities of suspected trafficking. The United States has established a comprehensive federal law to combat the sale of persons into forced prostitution or other labor, but victims of the criminal enterprises are typically forced to keep their situations secret and are kept from seeking help for themselves.

“Worldwide, most victims are trapped in forced labor with women and children being more frequent victims,” said Dr. Lisa Rapp-McCall, a Saint Leo University professor of social work. “Unfortunately, the number of victims of human trafficking is increasing each year and those victims are generally the most vulnerable members of society children, youth in foster care, runaways, women, and impoverished people.” Human trafficking is studied by Rapp-McCall and several of her colleagues in the social work and criminal justice academic departments at Saint Leo University’s College of Education and Social Services. Faculty members keep up with the topic to help prepare students for cases they may encounter as future social workers and law enforcement officers.

The Saint Leo University Polling Institute followed up on this interest and asked people during the regular fall 2018 survey about their personal awareness level of human trafficking. Nationally, the polling institute surveyed 1,167 people about human trafficking, yielding a margin of error for results of plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. The same questions were asked of a separate sample of 698 residents of Florida. Florida is home to Saint Leo University and the Saint Leo University Polling Institute, and its opinions are regularly measured to serve statewide interest. Florida is also one of the states known for high levels of federal prosecution of human trafficking cases. Within both the national and state samples, men and women were represented evenly.

In the national sample, 76.2 percent said they were either very aware (27.2 percent) or somewhat aware (49 percent) of human trafficking in the United States. In the Florida sample, a combined 82.5 percent said they either very aware (34.1 percent) or somewhat aware (of 48.4 percent) of human trafficking within the United States.

The scope of the crime and public exposure to the issue
Americans indicated they consider the level of human trafficking in the country to be serious, based on what they know or have heard recently. The respondents were asked to select from five different possible responses to best describe their opinion.

Possible answers as to level of seriousness of human trafficking as a problem U.S. – percent Florida – percent
Very serious 48.1% 53.9%
Somewhat serious 31.7% 34%
Combined – very serious and somewhat serious 79.8% 87.8%
Not very serious 7.2% 5.2%
Not at all serious 2.4% 1%
Unsure 10.6% 6%


Another member of Saint Leo’s social work faculty, Dr. Robert Lucio, registered concern about the percentage from the survey who do not regard the crime as serious, or are unsure what to think. “While 80 percent of respondents in United States and 87 percent of those from Florida have reported that human trafficking is a serious problem, 20 percent to 13 percent of respondents saw this as a less serious issue,” Lucio said. “While we can take some comfort in the fact that many people recognize the serious nature of this crime, we cannot rest until all people understand the true nature and impact of this horrible crime.”

Another question examined how often survey respondents have encountered information on trafficking. Specifically, a question asked how many times over the previous year people said they had read, heard, or seen articles, stories, presentations, or programming on human trafficking in the United States. Respondents selected a choice from possible numerical ranges.

Times respondents encountered information about human trafficking in the U.S. in the previous year U.S.- percent Florida – percent
25 or more times 15.9% 13.5%
15 times to less than 25 times 21.5% 21.6%
5 times to less than 15 times 28.1% 32.4%
Once to less than 5 times 17.1% 18.9%
Have not read, heard, or seen anything in the past year 7.2% 6.7%
Unsure 10.2% 6.9%


Public recognition about how trafficking works
The polling institute also wanted to find out what proportion of people understand just how human traffickers find and exploit their victims, and what percentage of people may be aware of anti-trafficking tactics in use. So the survey presented a list of facts that are known about trafficking and asked people what level of awareness they had about each fact. There is a practical reason for assessing this, according to Rapp-McCall. “A better understanding of the public’s knowledge can assist the development of public awareness campaigns. Similar to drug trafficking and organized crime, awareness and assistance from the public is essential to assist law enforcement in ending this secretive, horrific crime.”

In response to several statements about criminal acts, a majority indicated they were very aware or somewhat aware of these activities of various trafficking enterprises.

Human trafficking
knowledge – statements
U.S. – percentages who
are aware
Florida – percentages who
are aware
Human trafficking, many times, involves selling individuals into forced sex operations Combined sum: 82.1%
– Very aware: 52.1%
– Somewhat aware: 30%
Combined sum: 87.8%
– Very aware: 59.5%
– Somewhat aware: 28.4%
Many times, children and adults are abducted for either forced labor or prostitution Combined sum: 77.6 %
– Very aware: 47.1%
– Somewhat aware: 30.5%
Combined sum: 86.8%
– Very aware: 51.6%
– Somewhat aware: 35.2%
Human trafficking, many times, involves selling individuals into forced labor Combined sum: 74.2%
– Very aware: 37.8%
– Somewhat aware: 36.4%
Combined sum: 82.8%
– Very aware: 46%
– Somewhat aware: 36.8%
Many times, children just out of foster care are enticed into either prostitution or forced into labor for sale by abductors Combined sum: 63.1%
– Very aware: 29.2%
– Somewhat aware: 33.9%
Combined sum: 70.9%
– Very aware: 35.5%
– Somewhat aware: 35.4%

Saint Leo’s Lucio commented that “consistently in both Florida and across the United States, respondents recognized the complex nature of human trafficking. While this continues to be a covert issue in society, many people are aware that trafficking can involve both sex trafficking and labor trafficking. In order to address this terrible problem, it is vital that people can identify the many forms it takes. Raising awareness around some aspects, such as the vulnerability of foster children, continues to be a major focus of education efforts,” he said.

Public awareness of available anti-trafficking resources
Although the majority of those surveyed indicated recognizing specific means of exploitation carried out by traffickers, the responses generally indicated that not as many people know about specific anti-trafficking initiatives. The results are shown in detail here.

Statements citing or naming
anti-trafficking resources
U.S. – percentages who are aware/not aware Florida – percentages who are aware/not aware
There is a National Human Trafficking Hotline number Aware: 46.9%
– Very aware: 22.4%
– Somewhat aware: 24.5%
Less aware/not aware: 39.1%
– Somewhat unaware: 16.5%
– Not at all aware: 22.6%
Aware: 56.8%
– Very aware: 27.9%
– Somewhat aware: 28.9%
Less aware/not aware: 35.1%
– Somewhat unaware: 14.8%
– Not at all aware: 20.3%
Human trafficking organizations or initiatives in your own community Aware: 41.2%
– Very aware: 17.1%
– Somewhat aware: 24.1%
Less aware/not aware: 45.2%
– Somewhat unaware: 19.9%
– Not at all aware: 25.3%
Aware: 43.4%
– Very aware: 20.2%
– Somewhat aware: 23.2%
Less aware/not aware 48.9%
– Somewhat unaware: 22.3%
– Not at all aware: 26.6%
There are “Trafficking Free Zones”
in the United States
Aware: 26.4%
– Very aware: 12.2%
– Somewhat aware: 14.2%
Less aware/not aware: 57.1%
– Somewhat unaware: 18.3%
– Not at all aware: 38.8%
Aware: 29.9%
– Very aware: 15.3%
– Somewhat aware: 14.6%
Less aware/not aware: 58.8%
– Somewhat unaware: 19.5%
– Not at all aware: 39.3%
Sex addiction resources in your own community Aware: 33.6%
– Very aware: 13.5%
– Somewhat aware: 20.1%
Less aware/not aware: 49.9%
– Somewhat unaware:18.8%
– Not at all aware: 31.1%
Aware: 35.4%
– Very aware: 14.6%
– Somewhat aware: 20.8%
Less aware/not aware: 54.9%
– Somewhat unaware: 22.5%
– Not at all aware: 32.4%

“It is clear that although the public is more aware of types of human trafficking and occurrences, there is far less knowledge about the national hotline and resources for victims,” said Rapp-McCall. “This finding lets service providers know that they need to increase awareness of their services and publicize the hotline number more so citizens can report suspicious activity.”


Personal willingness to help fight crime
Most respondents across the nation and in Florida indicated they would be very likely or at least somewhat likely to report a suspected incidence of human trafficking. Nationally, the sum was 75.3 percent: 50.1 percent said they were very likely, and 25.2 percent said they were somewhat likely.  In Florida, the combined sum of those likely to report was 81.8 percent, as 56.7 percent said they were very likely and 25.1 percent said they were somewhat likely.

Interest in attending a seminar, presentation or program on human trafficking was much lower, though, with a sum of 40.3 percent nationally saying they would be very likely or somewhat likely to attend such an event. In Florida, the results were similar. A combined sum of 45 percent said they would be very likely or somewhat likely to attend.

Lucio commented that as “fewer than half of people polled expressed that they were likely to attend a training, creating opportunities for more education and for finding different venues for public awareness and training, which are important next steps in anti-trafficking efforts. ’’

Finally, the survey asked how many people are aware of human trafficking as a worldwide issue—and not just a crime within the boundaries of the United States. Awareness of this was also notable across the population. In the national sample, 66.4 percent of those responding said they are either very aware or somewhat aware that this crime occurs globally, as well as domestically. In Florida, 75.8 percent of respondents said they are very aware or somewhat of the international incidence of trafficking of persons.

Rapp-McCall said that education efforts must continue, even with such high percentages of people saying they know about human trafficking and its extensive reach.  “We still need citizens to be aware of this crime in their communities and globally and to call law enforcement or the National Human Trafficking Hotline if they have any suspicions,” she said.

About the Poll
METHODOLOGY: This national survey was conducted from October 11 through October 17, 2018, among a base of 1,167 respondents, using an online instrument. The national survey has a +/- 3.0 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level on a composite basis. In Florida, the survey was conducted among 698 people across the state from October 16 through October 22, 2018, also using an online survey instrument. The Florida poll has a +/- 3.5 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
Saint Leo University ( is a modern Catholic teaching university that is firmly grounded in the liberal arts tradition and the timeless Benedictine wisdom that seeks balanced growth of mind, body, and spirit. The Saint Leo University of today is a private, nonprofit institution that creates hospitable learning communities wherever students want to be or need to be, whether that is a campus classroom, a web-based environment, an employer’s worksite, a military base, or an office park. Saint Leo welcomes people of all faiths and of no religious affiliation, and encourages learners of all generations. The university is committed to providing educational opportunities to the nation’s armed forces, veterans, and their families. Saint Leo is regionally accredited to award degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate, and the faculty and staff guide all students to develop their capacities for critical thinking, moral reflection, and lifelong learning and leadership.

The university remains the faithful steward of the beautiful lakeside University Campus in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, where its founding monks created the first Catholic college in the state in 1889. Serving nearly 12,000 students, Saint Leo has expanded to downtown Tampa, to other sites in Florida and beyond, and maintains a physical presence in seven states. The university provides highly respected online learning programs to students nationally and internationally. More than 93,000 alumni reside in all 50 states, in Washington, DC, in three U.S. territories, and in 76 countries.