Human Trafficking—Scope and Solutions?: An Activist Asks Questions

By K. Kerr

K. Kerr is a lawyer, human trafficking activist and Director of Programs for Freedom House, the first transitional shelter dedicated to supporting survivors of human trafficking in the San Francisco area.  K. Kerr has been a Spark member since 2009.

I have spent the last five years in the fight against human trafficking.   I have worked and written on this topic and still I am left with a lot of unanswered questions.  In this, I am not alone.  I can repeat what the U.S. Government, United Nations and various nonprofit organizations report.  I can tell you what I have seen in working with populations vulnerable to trafficking and survivors of trafficking.  Despite this, key questions around scope and solutions, remain unanswered.

How Big Is the Problem of Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking occurs when victims (both US and foreign citizens) are forced, coerced or deceived into labor or sexual exploitation. Despite knowing about the problem, I still do not know the size of the problem.  No one does.  The U.S. State Department recently released the 10th annual Trafficking in Persons Report.  The U.S. State Department recently released the 10th Annual Trafficking in Persons Report.  In its 10 years of reporting, the government struggled to identify an estimate of victims.  At first the government estimated that up to 50,000 foreign citizens were trafficked into the U.S. every year.  In subsequent reports, the estimate dropped to 17,500 and then was removed from the report.  The report also does not address the hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizen minors estimated to be at risk of sexual exploitation or sex trafficking.

The shifting estimates possibly reflect a reaction to the staggering low number of identified victims.  The State Department reported that in fiscal year 2009, 697 requests for victim care referrals were made through the National Human Trafficking Resource Center; 313 T-Visas (visas for trafficking victims) were issued; and 330 adult certifications for victim benefits delivered.

The disparity in the number of estimated and served victims suggests that the process of identification remains inadequate. Although the Department of Justice funds 38 task forces to train and coordinate law enforcement to better respond to instances of suspected human trafficking, many first responders including law enforcement and health care professionals still do not know about human trafficking, that U.S. citizens may be victims or the red flags that indicate potential victims.

How Do We Help Victims of Human Trafficking?

Once victims are identified, there are many challenges in providing services to survivors of human trafficking.  Housing, for example, is desperately needed but expensive.  Without access to adequate services such as housing, survivors become vulnerable to re-exploitation.

While the government provides some funding for organizational services, the expense and availability of housing continues to be a problem.  In fact, housing in the San Francisco area is limited to temporary housing options for survivors such as Good Samaritan homes, homeless shelters, motels or domestic violence shelters.

Freedom House – was created to meet the unmet need for housing for survivors of trafficking in the San Francisco area.   Freedom House is opening this August.  The house will offer a safe shelter and basic essentials for survivors.  Additionally, the home will offer services such as one-on-one career counseling, life skills training and will connect survivors to medical, dental, legal and psychological services.

Freedom House is a great start in answering the question of how do we help former victims; however, it is just one part of the answer.  Additional housing and services continue to be needed as well as funding for organizations serving this population.

To find out more information about Freedom House and to get involved with its efforts, visit

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