National Human Trafficking Hotline in the hot seat with Congress

ORLANDO, Fla. — The organization that runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline is now in the hot seat with Congress. Florida ranks third for the number of calls to that hotline, but not all of those tips are relayed to law enforcement.

The hotline is not intended to be a law enforcement tip line. The organization that runs it says the primary goal is to connect survivors with services, and its leaders have come out against proposed federal legislation looking to change that.


The number of calls from Florida to the National Human Trafficking Hotline quantifies the horrific reality Marianne Thomas lived firsthand.

“I, myself, used to call law enforcement for help, call 911. That’s all that was available back then,” Thomas said. “And when law enforcement showed up, they would take one look at me and say they couldn’t help, and leave.”

Read: Florida’s fight against human trafficking: What is being done?

A survivor of sex trafficking, Thomas now helps organizations like One Purse in Orlando to help other women exit the life of control by a trafficker. She said, for many, distrust in law enforcement is engrained by their trafficker.

“We’re taught to not trust law enforcement on several levels,” Thomas said.

That’s why she, and other survivors, have such concern about the National Human Trafficking Hotline Enhancement Act. It would require information given to the hotline to be relayed to law enforcement, even if the person calling doesn’t want the information shared.

Read: 2 Central Florida adults arrested for human trafficking, officials say there could be more victims

“I’m a victim of a crime, so it should still be my choice,” Thomas said.

The legislation comes after 36 attorneys general, including Florida’s Ashley Moody, called for changes to the way information is relayed to law enforcement. In a letter to lawmakers, the group said, “We cannot in good conscience continue to ask the public to share tips about trafficking if the hotline will not give us, as law enforcement, the opportunity to address those tips.”

“Clearly from law enforcement, the more information we have, it helps us intervene,” said Ron Stucker, director of the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation said.

Read: Victims raise questions after changes to Florida human trafficking bill

Stucker told 9 Investigates that in Central Florida the majority of trafficking tips come from other sources, and his agents can’t tackle the problem alone.

“It really takes everybody working together law enforcement, social services, the call takers to try to do the best thing they can to break that cycle of violence,” Stucker said.

Polaris, which runs the hotline, issued this statement:

Read: Florida lawmaker pushes bipartisan bill to combat human trafficking

Unfortunately, the concerns raised are based on a misunderstanding of the mission of the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The Trafficking Hotline is not primarily a law enforcement tip line but rather is authorized by Congress and funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service to “assist victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons in communicating with service providers.”

To serve this mission, the Trafficking Hotline must have the trust of victims and survivors we serve. To that end, the Trafficking Hotline does not report their situations to law enforcement without their consent. Instead, the Trafficking Hotline works with victims to determine what they need to begin to break free and rebuild their lives. This is important because traffickers take consent, choice, and freedom away from victims. To effectively support survivors is to return to them control over their own lives and choices. When and if victims and survivors choose to involve law enforcement, the Trafficking Hotline supports the process every step of the way.

The Trafficking Hotline reports all situations involving children to appropriate authorities as directed by state and federal protocols. The Trafficking Hotline will also report situations where immediate and escalating violence can be heard or observed.

Polaris is deeply committed to ensuring traffickers are held accountable and are stopped from being able to continue to victimize people. We actively partner with hundreds of law enforcement agencies all over the country to ensure countless traffickers are arrested and justice is served.

We look forward to continuing to engage our law enforcement partners, including the attorneys general’s offices, as well as thousands of social service agencies, survivor leaders, and community leaders who we partner with, to ensure the Trafficking Hotline fulfills its mission to provide a safe and trusted place for victims and survivors to get connected to help.

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Karla Ray

Karla Ray, WFTV.com

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.