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Anti-immigration sentiment and public opinion on human trafficking


Prior research shows that anti-immigration sentiment affects public opinion about criminal justice problems and solutions. However, we know little about how these sentiments affect public opinion about human trafficking. This paper attempts to fill this gap by examining the role of anti-immigration sentiment in shaping public support for anti-trafficking efforts in the United States. Specifically, this research examines the effect of anti-immigration sentiment on the public’s understanding about vulnerabilities for human trafficking among migrant populations and corresponding support for policies directed at the protection of migrant trafficked persons. This is particularly important because public policies that safeguard migrant trafficked persons have been among the most difficult to pass despite strong support for the governmental prioritization of anti-trafficking efforts overall. Utilizing public opinion data from an original, nationally representative survey experiment of 2000 Americans, this study finds that anti-immigration sentiment (1) is associated with greater recognition of the vulnerability of immigrants to human trafficking victimization; (2) does not impact public support for a general governmental prioritization of human trafficking policies; yet (3) creates less public support for victim services for non-citizen trafficked persons; and (4) stems from differences in political views impacting support for services for immigrant victims. These findings contribute to an understanding of the role of anti-immigration sentiment in public opinion about crime and have implications for policies aimed at improving the identification of and outcomes for migrant trafficked persons.

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  1. After participants have been recruited and accept the invitation to join KnowledgePanel, they are asked to first complete a brief demographic survey of which the answers are utilized for panel sampling and weighting for specific domain surveys. Next, a simple random sample from the panel is taken for a domain survey. Generally, GfK does not assign more than one survey per week to individual panel members. Participation in any survey is voluntary and GfK provides laptop computers and Internet service connection to any participant who does not already have them. Participants in the survey underlying the current study received a five-dollar compensation.

  2. It was clarified to respondents that the definition of human trafficking under federal law does “not require that a trafficking victim be physically transmitted from one location to another, only that their services be extracted by force, fraud, or coercion (unless the victim is a minor, in which case force, fraud, or coercion is not necessary). The data did not allow for views on immigrant risk to be separated between immigrants victimized in the process of coming to the US versus those victimized after having arrived to the US.

  3. Age was excluded due to an insignificant and negligible contribution to the overall model.

  4. Findings from ordinal logistic regression did not affect substantive interpretation of the results. For purposes of simplicity and comparability across the three models, this study presents the results from OLS techniques for which the cited research has confirmed robust and efficient estimates.

  5. Several sensitivity analyses were conducted to assess the robustness of the findings. Results from fixed-effect linear regression analyses as well as mixed-effects regression models were examined to account for any potential omitted variable bias as a result of economic or cultural variation on state-level. None of these analyses impacted the interpretation of the findings in meaningful ways. Results are available upon request.


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The current study was, in part, funded by a Research Scholar Fellowship of the Violence and Justice Research Laboratory at Northeastern University (2017) awarded to the first two authors of this manuscript. The original research was funded by the National Institute of Justice, Grant #2012-MU-CX-0027.

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Correspondence to Ieke de Vries.

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de Vries, I., Nickerson, C., Farrell, A. et al. Anti-immigration sentiment and public opinion on human trafficking. Crime Law Soc Change 72, 125–143 (2019).

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