Polaris Project

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Polaris Logohoriz 250.png
Motto Freedom Happens Now
Formation 2002
Type NGO
Purpose Combat human trafficking and slavery
Headquarters Washington, D.C.
  • United States
Bradley Myles[1]
Main organ
Board of Directors[2]
Website Official website

Polaris is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization that works to combat and prevent modern-day slavery and human trafficking. The organization works directly with victims, hosts tip and crisis hotlines, and offers solutions to those victimized by human trafficking. The organization is one of the largest anti-trafficking organizations in the US, with programs operating at local and national levels through their offices in Washington, D.C. and Newark, New Jersey.[3] They operate the National Human Trafficking Resource Center NHTRC)[4] which serves as a central national hotline on human trafficking. Other anti-trafficking organizations, such as International Justice Mission and Truckers Against Trafficking, cite Polaris data.[5] 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, when they were inspired to create a nonprofit organization that focuses on ending human trafficking and modern-day slavery. The inspiration came to them after learning about a forced labor criminal case which exposed how six South Korean women were forced to work at a brothel in Providence, Rhode Island.[6] The organization was named after the North Star, which slaves 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.[7] 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.[3] In April 2013, Polaris Project launched their Global Human Trafficking Hotline Network to connect with international anti-trafficking organizations running hotlines and coordinate efforts. [8]

The Hotline and Organization Programs[edit]

These are some of their current and past programs striving to bring an end to human trafficking according to GuideStar.

  • Washington, DC Trafficking intervention Program
  • New Jersey Trafficking Intervention Program
  • National Human Trafficking Resource Center
  • U.S. Policy Program
  • National Public Outreach Program[9]

Through Polaris Project, there exists a National Human Trafficking Resource Center and a hotline number to help bring an end to modern day slavery. Polaris Project used Salesforce to help improve tactics and increase their social impact. In early 2013, Polaris Project, along with Thorn, Salesforce, and Twilio,[10] launched a new hotline for texting. By simply texting "BeFree" (233733), victims and captives could quickly and directly send out a message. This method of communication gives Polaris Project the ability to gather information and use it to coordinate with law enforcement to help victims of human trafficking.

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.[11] 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.[12] 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".[13]


Polaris Project has been criticized by sex workers and some public health advocates. 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 facilities human trafficking. Polaris Project's Executive Director, Bradley Myles, has stated in interviews and in an open letter to Village Voice Media,[14] 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 known advertisements for coerced sexual activity is exceedingly low, and that almost all ads the site carries are from willing adults.[15] Others have pointed out that law enforcement agencies have themselves utilized Backpage to identify possible illegal and coerced activities.[16]

Honors and awards[edit]

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

  • Google Global Impact Award [8]
  • 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
  • Washington Area Women's Foundation Leadership Award 2004
  • Lifetime Television
  • Body Shop
  • CNN


  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. ^ a b "Katherine Chon and Derek Ellerman: Fighting Human Trafficking | USPolicy". Uspolicy.be. 2009-03-09. Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  4. ^ "Department of Health and Human Services «". Humanrights.gov. Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  5. ^ a b "Special Report: Money and Lies in Anti-Human Trafficking NGOs". truth-out.org. 2015-01-27. Retrieved 2016-09-22. 
  6. ^ "Katherine Chon and Derek Ellerman: Fighting Human Trafficking". America.gov. 2009-03-01. Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  7. ^ "Fighting modern slave trade | Harvard Gazette". News.harvard.edu. Retrieved 2012-11-08. 
  8. ^ a b Google helps bring hotline to human-trafficking battle, USA Today web, 2013-04-09, retrieved 2013-04-10 
  9. ^ "GuideStar overview of Polaris Programs". GuideStar USA, Inc. 2014–2015. Retrieved 2016-04-09. 
  10. ^ "Twilio Text Code for Polaris Project". Twilio, Inc. 2013–2014. Retrieved 2016-02-21. 
  11. ^ "Why are Sex Workers and Public Health Advocates Annoyed with Google?". Dailykos. 2011-12-21. Retrieved 2015-01-29. 
  12. ^ Sneed, Tierney. "How Big Data Battles Human Trafficking". Retrieved 2015-08-26. 
  13. ^ "Special Report: Money and Lies in Anti Human Trafficking NGOs". truth-out.org. 2015-01-15. Retrieved 2016-09-22. 
  14. ^ "Letter to Village Voice Media". Polaris Project. 2011-12-12. Retrieved 2015-01-29. 
  15. ^ "Sex Lies and Suicide: What's Wrong with the War on Sex Trafficking". Forbes. 2012-06-26. Retrieved 2015-01-29. 
  16. ^ "An Uneasy Backpage Alliance". Salon. 2012-05-13. Retrieved 2015-01-29.