Polaris Project

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Formation2002; 21 years ago (2002)
FoundersDerek Ellerman
Katherine Chon
PurposeCombat and prevent human trafficking
HeadquartersWashington, D.C., U.S.
  • United States
Catherine Chen [1]
Main organ
Board of Directors[2]
WebsiteOfficial website

Polaris is a nonprofit non-governmental organization that works to combat and prevent sex and labor trafficking in North America. The organization's 10-year strategy is built around the understanding that human trafficking does not happen in vacuum but rather is the predictable end result of a range of other persistent injustices and inequities in our society and our economy. Knowing that, and leveraging data available from more than a dozen years operating the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, Polaris is focused on three major areas of work: building power for migrant workers who are at risk of trafficking in U.S. agricultural and other industries; leveraging the reach and expertise of financial systems to disrupt trafficking, creating accountability for perpetrators of violence against people in the sex trade and expanding services and supports to vulnerable people to prevent trafficking before it happens.

Polaris operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline,[3] which connects victims and survivors to supports and services around the country and takes tips and calls from people about suspected situations of human trafficking. From that work, the organization has built out one of the largest data sets on human trafficking in the United States. The data set is publicly available for use by researchers through the Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative, launched by Polaris and UN 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. 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 - originally Polaris Project - was founded in 2002, by Derek Ellerman and Katherine Chon, who were seniors at Brown University. The organization was named after the North Star, an historical symbol of freedom.[5] 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.[6]

The National Human Trafficking Hotline[edit]

Since 2007, Polaris has operated the U.S. 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.[7] The Trafficking Hotline provides survivors of human trafficking with support and a variety of options to get help and stay safe, and shares actionable tips as appropriate. Assistance through the Trafficking Hotline is available 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Victims, survivors and others can contact the Trafficking Hotline through phone text (233733), web form and online chat, in both English and Spanish. All contact with the Trafficking Hotline is confidential. The Trafficking Hotline also maintains a public referral directory organizations around the country that work on and may be able to assist victims, survivors and others wishing to get involved in the anti trafficking movement.[8]

Data and research[edit]

Polaris has compiled the largest data set on human trafficking in the United States.[citation needed] The data is gleaned from the Trafficking Hotline. While data from the Trafficking Hotline is the most comprehensive publicly available set on human trafficking in North America, it has significant limitations and should not be taken as a prevalence study. The data available through the Trafficking Hotline only reflects the experience of those who are aware of their rights, and choose to make contact. Therefore, it cannot be used to refer to any particular state as being "the worst" for human trafficking or even having the "highest number of situations of human trafficking." Additionally, data collection is secondary to the mission of the Trafficking Hotline, and questions asked during contact made to the Hotline are limited to what is necessary to know in order to provide the assistance needed.

In 2020, Polaris began work on the National Survivor Study, in order to obtain scientifically valid data. In addition to asking people with lived experience to share their expertise, the project relies on survivors to design the study and analyze the findings.


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'".[9] 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, although no evidence has been provided for the latter.[10] However, at least as of 2022, The National Human Trafficking Hotline is confidential, except in cases where an call is made about someone under 18 suspected of abuse, in which case reporting to law enforcement may be required by law.[11] Others have criticized Polaris for providing no services to alleged victims.[citation needed] Critics argue 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.

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.[12] Polaris later 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.[13] 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".[14]

Honors and awards[edit]

  • 2020 Ohtli Award [15]
  • Thomson Reuters Everyday Heroes Award [16]
  • 2017 Skoll Foundation Award for Social Entrepreneurship [17]
  • Google Global Impact Award [18]
  • Ashoka Innovators for the Public


  1. ^ "Catherine Chen". Polaris. 11 December 2019. Retrieved 2022-07-28.
  2. ^ "Leadership | Polaris".
  3. ^ "Grants".
  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. ^ "Fighting modern slave trade | Harvard Gazette". News.harvard.edu. 27 May 2010. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
  6. ^ "Katherine Chon and Derek Ellerman: Fighting Human Trafficking | USPolicy". Uspolicy.be. 2009-03-09. Retrieved 2012-11-08.
  7. ^ "Office on Trafficking in Persons". U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families. Retrieved 2018-02-14.
  8. ^ "Referral Directory". National Human Trafficking Hotline. 2014-09-24. Retrieved 2021-11-24.
  9. ^ Nolan Brown, Elizabeth (January 10, 2020). "Super Bowl Sex Trafficking Myths Return". Reason. Reason Foundation. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  10. ^ D, Robin (25 June 2015). "Big Mother is Watching You: The Polaris Project & Rhode Island". Tits and Sass. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  11. ^ "Confidentiality Policy | National Human Trafficking Hotline". humantraffickinghotline.org. Retrieved 2023-05-30.
  12. ^ "Why are Sex Workers and Public Health Advocates Annoyed with Google?". Dailykos. 2011-12-21. Retrieved 2015-01-29.
  13. ^ Sneed, Tierney. "How Big Data Battles Human Trafficking". Retrieved 2015-08-26.
  14. ^ "Special Report: Money and Lies in Anti Human Trafficking NGOs". truth-out.org. 2015-01-15. Retrieved 2016-09-22.
  15. ^ https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=4758733900818293[user-generated source]
  16. ^ "Everyday Heroes".
  17. ^ "Skoll Awards". Skoll Foundation. Retrieved 2018-02-14.
  18. ^ Google helps bring hotline to human-trafficking battle, USA Today web, 2013-04-09, retrieved 2013-04-10