Polaris Project

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Polaris Project logo.svg
MottoFreedom Happens Now
Formation2002; 18 years ago (2002)
FoundersDerek Ellerman
Katherine Chon
PurposeCombat human trafficking and slavery
HeadquartersWashington, D.C., U.S.
  • United States
Bradley Myles[1]
Main organ
Board of Directors[2]
WebsiteOfficial website

Polaris is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization that works to combat and prevent modern-day slavery and human trafficking. For the past 10 years, Polaris has run the National Human Trafficking Hotline, working on some 40,000 cases of trafficking. From that work, the organization has built out one of the largest data sets on human trafficking in the United States. Based on this data set, in 2017 Polaris released The Typology of Modern Slavery, which classified human trafficking in the United States into 25 distinct businesses.[3] The data set is publicly available for use by researchers through the Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative, launched by Polaris and U.N. International Organization for Migration.[4] Polaris also advocates for stronger state and federal anti-trafficking legislation, and engages community members in local and national grassroots efforts. Polaris has been criticized for releasing false and misleading data regarding sex trafficking.[5] Critics of Polaris state that the organization fails to distinguish between consensual sex work and coercion, and that the policies Polaris lobbies for harm sex workers.


Polaris was founded with the name Polaris Project in 2002, by Derek Ellerman and Katherine Chon, who were seniors at Brown University. Chon had sought to make sex work illegal in Rhode Island after reading an article about a alleged sex trafficking in Korean spas in her home town of Providence, Rhode Island.[6] [7] The organization was named after the North Star, people living in slavery in the Southern United States used to help find their way along the Underground Railroad to freedom in the North. The organization is committed to ending human trafficking and slavery and focuses its efforts in the United States.[8] Polaris is one of the few organizations working on all forms of trafficking, including supporting survivors who are male, female, transgender people and children, US citizens and foreign nationals and survivors of both labor and sex trafficking.[9] In April 2013, Polaris Project launched their Global Human Trafficking Hotline Network to connect with international anti-trafficking organizations running hotlines and coordinate efforts. [10]

The National Human Trafficking Hotline[edit]

Since 2007, Polaris has operated the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Administration for Children and Families and through non-governmental sources.[11] The National Hotline provides survivors of human trafficking with support and a variety of options to get help and stay safe, and shares actionable tips and expertise with the anti-trafficking community. It is staffed 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Assistance is available in more than 200 languages.

In 2018, the National Hotline announced expanded modes of communications. Now survivors and others can contact the service using BeFree SMS Textline (233733) and online chat services in both English and Spanish.

The number of human trafficking cases reported to the National Hotline has increased significantly every year since 2007. More than 7,600 cases were reported in 2016, and 2017 is projected to surpass that number by 10 to 20 percent. All calls are kept confidential unless a caller consents to being connected to law enforcement or a social service provider, or if the caller reports a situation of imminent danger.[12]

Allegations of Publishing False and Misleading Data[edit]

The accuracy of Polaris’ data on human trafficking has been questioned by multiple sources. In 2011, Polaris was criticized for knowingly using false and misleading data to exaggerate the number of trafficked sex workers and understate their age of entry into sex work.[13] Since then, Polaris has partnered with data analysis firm Palantir Technologies to improve the organization of data reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and the accuracy of statistics released to the public.[14] More recently, in 2015, Polaris was accused of using unreferenced and uncorroborated data to exaggerate the income and number of clients seen by street based and massage parlor based sex workers and the prevalence of "pimps".[15]


Polaris Project has been criticized by journalists, sex workers and some public health advocates. Reason magazine editor Elizabeth Nolan Brown referred to Polaris as "one of the biggest purveyors of bad statistics dressed up as 'human trafficking awareness'".[16] Sex worker advocates have stated the human trafficking hotline operated by Polaris is not confidential, and that calls to the hotline are referred to police who then arrest adult sex workers.[17] Others point out that Polaris itself provides no services to alleged victims.[18] Critics point out that Polaris Project fails to distinguish between consenting adults who choose to participate in sex work from those who are actual victims of coercion. They also state that because Polaris advocates law enforcement solutions to abolish sex work, sex workers themselves are harmed, face arrest, or may be driven further underground.

Others have questioned specific tactics of Polaris. Polaris has advocated shutting down online advertising site Backpage, claiming that it facilitates human trafficking. Polaris Project's Executive Director, Bradley Myles, has stated in interviews and in an open letter to Village Voice Media,[19] the owner of Backpage, that the site "facilitates human trafficking," and called for the website to stop accepting ads for sexual services. Critics of Polaris point out that this tactic would likely only spread sex advertisements to other, less regulated websites. They point out that the number of known advertisements for coerced sexual activity is exceedingly low, and that almost all ads the site carries are from willing adults.[20] Others have pointed out that law enforcement agencies have themselves utilized Backpage to identify possible illegal and coerced activities.[21]

Honors and awards[edit]

Since its founding, Polaris has received awards and honors for its achievements, including those below:

  • 2017 Skoll Foundation Award for Social Entrepreneurship [22]
  • Google Global Impact Award [10]
  • Ashoka Innovators for the Public
  • Marie Claire's 10 Best Charities
  • 2006 Justice for Victims of Crime Award – given by the Department of Justice
  • DO Something BRICK award


  1. ^ "Bradley Myles | Executive Director and CEO | Polaris Project | Combating Human Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery". Polaris Project. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
  2. ^ "Board of Directors | Polaris Project | Combating Human Trafficking and Modern-day Slavery". Polaris Project. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
  3. ^ "From forced labor in fairs to child begging, U.S. study reveals new..." Reuters. 2017-03-29. Retrieved 2018-03-01.
  4. ^ "UN Migration Agency, Polaris to Launch Global Data Repository on Human Trafficking". International Organization for Migration. 2017-09-06. Retrieved 2018-03-01.
  5. ^ "Special Report: Money and Lies in Anti-Human Trafficking NGOs". truth-out.org. 2015-01-27. Retrieved 2016-09-22.
  6. ^ D, Robin (June 25, 2015). "Big Mother Is Watching You: The Polaris Project & Rhode Island". Tits and Sass. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  7. ^ "Katherine Chon and Derek Ellerman: Fighting Human Trafficking". America.gov. 2009-03-01. Archived from the original on 2012-10-20. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
  8. ^ "Fighting modern slave trade | Harvard Gazette". News.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
  9. ^ "Katherine Chon and Derek Ellerman: Fighting Human Trafficking | USPolicy". Uspolicy.be. 2009-03-09. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
  10. ^ a b Google helps bring hotline to human-trafficking battle, USA Today web, 2013-04-09, retrieved 2013-04-10
  11. ^ "Office on Trafficking in Persons". U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families. Retrieved 2018-02-14.
  12. ^ "Hotline announcements". National Human Trafficking Hotline. Retrieved 2018-02-14.
  13. ^ "Why are Sex Workers and Public Health Advocates Annoyed with Google?". Dailykos. 2011-12-21. Retrieved 2015-01-29.
  14. ^ Sneed, Tierney. "How Big Data Battles Human Trafficking". Retrieved 2015-08-26.
  15. ^ "Special Report: Money and Lies in Anti Human Trafficking NGOs". truth-out.org. 2015-01-15. Retrieved 2016-09-22.
  16. ^ Nolan Brown, Elizabeth (January 10, 2020). "Super Bowl Sex Trafficking Myths Return". Reason. Reason Foundation. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  17. ^ D, Robin. Tits and Sass http://titsandsass.com/big-mother-is-watching-you-the-polaris-project-rhode-island/#comment-921592. Retrieved 10 January 2020. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  18. ^ "Who We Are". National Human Trafficking Hotline. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  19. ^ "Letter to Village Voice Media". Polaris Project. 2011-12-12. Archived from the original on 2015-06-23. Retrieved 2015-01-29.
  20. ^ "Sex Lies and Suicide: What's Wrong with the War on Sex Trafficking". Forbes. 2012-06-26. Retrieved 2015-01-29.
  21. ^ "An Uneasy Backpage Alliance". Salon. 2012-05-13. Retrieved 2015-01-29.
  22. ^ "Skoll Awards". Skoll Foundation. Retrieved 2018-02-14.