Much of the research on human trafficking focuses on the prosecution of traffickers and protection of survivors after the crime has occurred. Less is known about the social disparities that make someone vulnerable to trafficking. This project examines human trafficking from a preventive focus, using data from a case study of service providers working with at-risk populations in the Kansas City, MO-KS area. The research team conducted 42 in-depth interviews with service providers working in the medical, educational, legal, and social services sectors from 2013 to 2016. Participants identified risk factors that could make someone vulnerable to labor or sexual exploitation. These factors clustered into four key areas: economic insecurity, housing insecurity, education, and migration. The research findings also suggest that human trafficking may be driven by an accumulation of risk factors that move vulnerable persons closer to labor exploitation and sex trafficking, fitting with a chain-of-risk model. We propose a model that reconceives of trafficking as a continuum that includes a range of vulnerabilities, violence, and traumas. In order to address human trafficking, policy makers and advocates need to focus on upstream prevention factors to address vulnerabilities that can lead to sex and labor exploitation.
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