Expanding Our Understanding of Traffickers and Their Operations: A Review of the Literature and Path Forward

Kelle Barrick, Thomas C. Sharkey, Kayse Lee Maass, Yongjia Song, Lauren Martin

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Human trafficking is a serious crime and violation of human rights that results in numerous harms. Although the phenomenon is not new, scholarship on the issue has grown substantially since the first legal framework was passed in 2000. However, the existing literature has been criticized for its skewed focus on victims, among other things. The dearth of information on traffickers and their operations limits our ability to reduce or prevent perpetration. The current study presents a comprehensive and critical review of the existing literature focused on traffickers to synthesize what is already known and highlight the key gaps. Twenty-nine articles met the inclusion criteria of (1) focusing on traffickers and their operations and (2) relying on data either directly from traffickers or sources that contained detailed information about criminal cases against traffickers. We used an iterative process to identify relevant studies, which included collecting articles of which we were already familiar or were identified in existing reviews, searching their reference lists, and conducting cited-by searches until saturation was reached. Topics found in the extant literature included: characteristics of traffickers, relationships between traffickers and victims, organizational characteristics and networks, operations, connections with other crimes, motivations, perceptions of behavior, and risks associated with trafficking. It concludes with recommendations for future research and a discussion of how bridging gaps in the literature could support more rigorous mathematical modeling that is needed to identify and assess promising perpetration prevention and intervention strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalTrauma, Violence, and Abuse
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023.


  • prostitution/sex work
  • violent offenders

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Review


Dive into the research topics of 'Expanding Our Understanding of Traffickers and Their Operations: A Review of the Literature and Path Forward'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this