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Since the 2000 passage of both the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and the U.N.’s Palermo Protocols, human trafficking has gained a notable global presence as a human rights concern. Community organizations, nonprofits, scholars, policymakers, and service providers have developed programs to identify and address human trafficking. Despite these efforts, finding reliable methods to document and quantify the instances of human trafficking continues to challenge researchers. Moreover, many believe trafficking is a problem primarily located in urban areas or along national borders.

Drawing from seven years of interviews with service providers who work in this sector, combined with survey results from an additional 722 service providers, this project adds to the growing body of research on human trafficking, specifically in the Midwestern United States. The findings of this study indicate that place and location matter in antitrafficking, especially with regard to availability of and access to resources across urban and rural areas. However, these service providers also identify similar concerns across regions with regards to trafficking warning signs and risk factors—for both sex and labor trafficking—as well as community resources that could prevent trafficking or alleviate vulnerability. These findings point toward the benefit of research that is geographically focused and involves both qualitative and quantitative research.

Additionally, this research has uncovered unexpected groups of community members that may be vital in the identification and prevention of human trafficking. Though there is a growing body of research about the role of medical practitioners, law enforcement, foster care workers, and social workers in the struggle to address trafficking, there are other groups that also have important insight into the risks their communities face. Interviews revealed that firefighters have particular relationships with the communities they serve and may be ideally positioned to address human trafficking, exploitation, and vulnerability because of these relationships.