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The “quiet risk” insurers need to know about

Defined by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as the threat of force to obtain a commercial or sexual act1, human trafficking has been dubbed a “quiet risk” for insurers.2 While it may lack the dramatic visibility of more conventional loss exposures like floods or wildfires, the human and business toll of trafficking can nonetheless be significant.

The ISO Emerging Issues team, in collaboration with students and faculty in the Risk Management and Insurance Program at East Carolina University (ECU), explored some of the implications of this “quiet risk” for insurance and risk management professionals in a recent webinar hosted by Verisk.


Anatomy of a criminal enterprise

According to the nonprofit organization Polaris, which operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, over 50,000 cases of human trafficking have been reported since 2007—a figure Polaris believes significantly undercounts the actual number of cases.3

Human trafficking has three facets:

  • Forced labor, which has been defined as “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself or herself voluntarily.”4
  • Domestic servitude, which entails forcing or coercing individuals into domestic service, typically in someone’s private residence.5
  • Sex trafficking, a crime that occurs when a person is induced to perform a commercial sex act by means of force, fraud, or coercion, or when a minor is induced to perform commercial sex regardless of whether there is any force, fraud, or coercion.6

These elements of human trafficking can interact with insured businesses, particularly in the transportation and hospitality industries.


Traffickers have often relied upon trucking companies to ferry or smuggle their victims across international or state borders. Due to their often-remote locations, truck stops can serve as sites to target or abuse victims. Trucking company drivers have been criminally charged for human trafficking and at least one trucking business was closed as a result of the scrutiny that accompanies such charges, even though it was not directly implicated for human trafficking.7


Hotels and motels are frequently used by human traffickers to exploit victims—with or without the knowledge of hospitality staff.8 Revisions to the 2000 Trafficking Victims Prevention Act generally allow for civil actions against traffickers or whoever knowingly participated in the trafficking, paving the way for civil suits against hospitality businesses.9 In one such suit, a motel’s insurer was compelled by the court to defend the business in a suit brought by a trafficking victim.10  

With the federal government devoting additional resources to combating the scourge of trafficking, the “quiet risk” may finally be raising its voice.

To learn more about the insurance and risk management implications of human trafficking, including how social media is used as a vector for recruitment and abuse, please tune into our webinar.

Student contributors: Allison Pigora, Amelia Reiher, Amirah Pitt-Bey, Ramez Botros, and Travis Miles

  1. What Is Human Trafficking? U.S. Department of Homeland Security, < >, accessed on May 4, 2020.
  2. Human Trafficking: A Quiet Risk, 2019 RIMS Annual Conference, April 30, 2019,
    < >, accessed on May 4, 2020.
  3. 2018 U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline Statistics, Polaris, 2018, < >, accessed on May 4, 2020.
  4. What is forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking? International Labour Organization,
    < >, accessed on May 4, 2020.
  5. Domestic Work, National Human Trafficking Hotline, < >, accessed on May 4, 2020.
  6. Ten Years of Sex Trafficking Cases in the United States, National Human Trafficking Resource Center,
    < >, accessed on May 4, 2020.
  7. Iowa Trucking Company Shut Down by the Feds: Tied to Human Trafficking Deaths, Theodoros & Rooth, P.C., October 20, 2017,
    < >, accessed on May 4, 2020.
  8. Human Trafficking in the Hospitality Industry: What Industry Participants Should Do to Protect Themselves and Their Customers, Jones Day, May 22, 2019, < >, accessed on May 4, 2020.
  9. Human Trafficking: Key Legislation, U.S. Department of Justice, January 6, 2017,
    < >, accessed on May 4, 2020.
  10. Insurer Must Defend Motel In Kidnapping, Sex Assault Suit, Law360, November 22, 2019,
    < >, accessed on May 4, 2020.
  11. Eleanor Lamb, “Trump Signs Executive Order to Combat Human Trafficking,” Transport Topics, January 31, 2020,
    < >, accessed on May 4, 2020.

Andrew Blancher, CPCU

Andrew Blancher, CPCU, is director of commercial automobile product development and Emerging Issues at Verisk. You can contact him at

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