Reporting Sex Trafficking: Local Problem with Global Dimensions

What is human trafficking? The trade in humans, commonly for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor, is a growing global problem. In fact, it generates more profits than the drug trade.

Journalists are increasingly likely to encounter trafficking in their own communities. But it's not just a local issue. The trade in human beings spans the globe and many local stories will have angles that extend far beyond the community.

Human trafficking is a complex and difficult issue for news organizations to cover, yet raising awareness is critical. The resources on this page will provide journalists with crucial information and approaches to recognize, understand and report sex trafficking in their communities, as well as to cover sex trafficking accurately and responsibly. Professional news coverage can foster meaningful dialogue among the public and policymakers as to what are the causes, consequences and solutions to the problem of sex trafficking.

These resources are provided as part of the McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute (SRI), “Reporting Sex Trafficking: Local Problem with Global Dimensions." The SRI was sponsored and hosted by the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Chapel Hill, NC on November 14-16, 2013, and was funded by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

Find an Expert

Kevin Bales, founder of Free the Slaves and author; email:

Bridgette Carr, clinical professor of law at the University of Michigan, director of the Human Trafficking Clinic and member of Michigan’s Commission on Human Trafficking; email:

Claude d’Estree, lecturer-in-law at the University of Denver and executive director of the Human Trafficking Clinic; email:

Abigail English, director, Center for Adolescent Health and the Law; email:

Matthew Friedman, CEO for Mekong Club: Fighting the Business of Human Trafficking; email:

Judith Kelly, Kevin D. Gorter Professor of Public Policy and Political Science, Duke University; email:

Laura Murphy, assistant professor at Loyola University New Orleans, organizer of the New Orleans Human Trafficking Working Group, national college chapter coordinator for Free the Slaves and director of the Survivors of Slavery speakers network; email:

Donna Sabella, assistant clinical professor and director of global studies at Drexel University and mental health nurse whose career has largely focused on helping victims of human trafficking and on training nurses to know the signs and help victims in their practice; email:

John Vanek, retired lieutenant, San Jose (Calif.) Police Department and former manager of the department’s Human Trafficking Task Force and current member of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Anti-Human Trafficking Planning Committee; email:

Twitter Handles to Follow

@CNNFreedom: The CNN Freedom Project aims to bring attention to the issue of human trafficking

@FAIR_Girls is an anti-human trafficking organization working to prevent exploitation with education and empowerment

@Holly_A_Smith: Holly Smith is a survivor of child sex trafficking and author of Walking Prey: How America's Youth Are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery

@minhspeakstruth: Minh Dang is an independent consultant and survivor of child sex trafficking who educates audiences nationally and internationally on the topic and advocates for trafficking survivors

@Polaris_Project: The Polaris Project is an anti-human trafficking organization

@TheIrinaProject is a project at the UNC journalism school that advocates for responsible, accurate reporting on sex trafficking

Blogs Worth Reading

FTS Blog, the official blog of Free the Slaves

The North Star, the blog of The Polaris Project

Human Trafficking Law Blog

World Vision blog on human trafficking

Human Trafficking

Key Resources

Key Web Resources

FAIR Girls: An organization that focuses on preventing the exploitation of girls with empowerment and education

The Polaris Project: A national anti-human trafficking organization that pushes for stronger federal and state laws, operates the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline (1-888-373-7888), conducts training and provides services to victims of trafficking

Survivors of Slavery: A nonprofit organization that supports survivors of modern slavery who want to lend their voice to the 21st century abolitionist movement

The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report: Issued annually by the U.S. Department of State; a comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts by country, for all regions of the world; each country is ranked on a three-tier scale based on efforts taken by the local government to combat human trafficking

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC): The UN branch focused on anti-human trafficking efforts; operates in all regions of the world through an extensive network of field offices; a good place to start in a discussion of what is human trafficking

The World Health Organization: Organization that works globally to address health disparities and provides information regarding human trafficking and health

Additional Web Resources

The Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST): Works to assist and empower victims of human trafficking by providing community outreach on local, state, national and international levels and advocacy via the media, public education and leadership development

Don’t Sell Bodies: An anti-human trafficking initiative founded by Jada Pinkett Smith; works to promote public engagement and empower survivors

End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT- USA): Works to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children by raising awareness, advocating for the victims and developing policy for private companies, law enforcement and government bodies to fight the problem, protect victims and penalize traffickers and exploiters

Free the Slaves: Dedicated to eradicating slavery and raising awareness among businesses of supply-chain slavery

Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS): A New York state organization that assists girls and young women who have experienced commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking

Human Trafficking North Carolina: The Carolina Women’s Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill works to eradicate sex trafficking; the organization's website offers a variety of resources and information on sex trafficking in North Carolina and globally, including resources for researchers

The Institute for Justice and Journalism: Works to strengthen reporting on social justice issues by helping journalists bring context, depth and diversity of perspectives to their news coverage and commentary

The Irina Project: A project at the UNC journalism school that monitors media representations of sex trafficking and advocates for responsible and accurate reporting on sex trafficking

The Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking: Formerly Polaris Project Colorado; works to develop reliable community-based research about human trafficking

Love 146: An organization working to abolish child sex trafficking with programs focused on prevention education and survivor care both in the U.S. and abroad

Not For Sale: An American-based anti-trafficking organization that runs international projects, social enterprises and supply-chain evaluations

Rights4Girls: Works to end domestic child sex trafficking by focusing on public policy and advocating for policies that protect the rights and dignity of women and girls

Sanctuary for Families: Provides comprehensive services to victims of sex trafficking in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx; multicultural staff is able to offer assistance to victims in more than 30 languages

Somaly Mam Foundation: Works to end sex trafficking by supporting rescue operations, shelter services and rehabilitation programs in Southeast Asia

United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking(UNIAP): An interagency project working with governments, UN agencies and civil society partners to facilitate a more coordinated response to human trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Yunnan Province, China

Urban Light: An anti-trafficking organization focused on helping sex-trafficked boys in northern Thailand



Covering Sex Trafficking: The trafficking of American children for sex is a story that could be told anywhere, yet few news organizations do it well. In this Webinar replay, you'll learn key interviewing and reporting techniques that will help you cover sex trafficking with context, credibility and accuracy

Covering Sexual Assault: A Webinar replay that examines issues tied to covering sexual assult. Improve your awareness, increase your sensitivity in interviewing victims, know the rights of the accused and learn to understand public reports and surveys.

Trauma Awareness: What Every Journalist Needs to Know: This Webinar replay will teach you to recognize and manage stress and trauma, both in yourself and in your sources.

Self-Directed Courses

Reporting on Sexual Violence: Learn to report accurately and dispel myths surrounding sexual violence.

Introduction to Ethical Decision-Making: Covering the sexual abuse of children can test your ethical decision-making skills. This course will help you identify, understand and practice those skills before you're faced with a tough call on deadline. It will also give you the confidence to meet that challenge.

Journalism and Trauma: The skills for interviewing traumatized victims and their families do not always come naturally. As a reporter covering sexual abuse of children, you'll need heightened awareness and sensitivity. This course will teach you how traumatic stress affects victims and how to interview trauma victims with compassion and respect.

Additional Resources

The Resources page from the SRI "Covering Child Sex Abuse" offers additional resources that might be useful in covering sex trafficking.