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Estimating Sex Trafficking in Sacramento County, California

An innovative, mixed-methods study of a hidden population


To understand the scope and nature of sex trafficking in Sacramento County, California. 


We used Multiple Systems Estimation (MSE) and Respondent-Driven Sampling (RDS) to estimate the prevalence of sex trafficking in Sacramento County between 2015 and 2020 and to better understand the experiences of sex trafficking survivors. 


This project provided the first estimate of sex trafficking in Sacramento County. Establishing a better understanding of the lived experiences of sex trafficking survivors is critical for creating meaningful prevention, identification, and intervention policies and strategies to address future instances of trafficking.

Estimating sex trafficking in Sacramento County to help survivors

Communities across the nation are increasingly recognizing that sex trafficking may occur locally. State and local law enforcement, community-based advocates, victim service providers, policymakers, and the general public are largely committed to addressing this crime. However, one of the central questions that stakeholders often ask in considering the appropriate intervention and response to sex trafficking is: how big is the problem, and what does it look like here? Understanding the scope and nature of sex trafficking in a city is an important first step toward mobilizing efforts to identify and provide services to trafficking survivors.

Measuring sex trafficking victimization – challenges and best practices

Measuring sex trafficking victimization is difficult for a number of reasons, but recent research suggests which methods will prove most effective. The most robust estimates come from micro-level studies of human trafficking prevalence that focus on specific, well-defined populations and rely on specially targeted recruitment strategies tailored to the population of focus. Studies based on these methods can inform stakeholders’ anti-trafficking efforts.

Following this rationale, this project focuses on estimating the prevalence of sex trafficking exploitation among adults who have traded sex in Sacramento County between 2015 and 2020.

Sex trafficking data collection & analysis methods

This study involves the use of Multiple Systems Estimation (MSE), which relies on secondary data on known victims of trafficking, collected from multiple sources to estimate a total number of sex trafficking victims in Sacramento County.

Additionally, this study uses Respondent-Driven Sampling (RDS), which relies on chain referrals among participants who have experienced sex trafficking exploitation. These individuals provided a more contextual understanding of sex trafficking in Sacramento County through their participation in semi-structured interviews.

Topics explored during the interviews included recruitment, victim and trafficker networks, service access, and encounters with law enforcement, among others. This rich qualitative data provides a deeper understanding of the lived experience of people who have been trafficked for sex, which is critical in developing effective ways to prevent and respond to sex trafficking.

A data-driven approach to advocating for sex trafficking survivors

Funded by the California Department of Justice through Community Against Sexual Harm (CASH), this project involves a partnership between CASH, RTI International, and the Institute for Social Research at Sacramento State University. Critically important has been the inclusion of a Survivor Advisory Council (SAC), through CASH, composed of survivors of sex trafficking who have contributed to the study instruments, design, recruitment methods, and interpretation of findings.