Small and rural police chief perspectives on human trafficking in Pennsylvania

Jennifer C. Gibbs, Emily R. Strohacker, Jennifer L. Schally

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Purpose: Research on human trafficking largely focuses on large, urban areas, yet it is a problem in small, rural areas. Police in these areas must have the training to identify human trafficking and resources to combat the issue – both of which may be lacking in small, rural areas. The purpose of this project is to explore police chiefs' perspectives on human trafficking in small, rural areas. Design/methodology/approach: A mixed-methods approach was used to assess Pennsylvania police chiefs' understanding of human trafficking and their perspective of the extent of the problem in their area. First, 349 police chiefs completed an online survey during the summer of 2020. Follow-up in-depth interviews were conducted with 52 police chiefs. Findings: Most chiefs believed human trafficking is a problem in Pennsylvania (81%) or in their local area (12%). Logistic regression analysis indicated chief experience, department budget and the number of employees affect small and rural police chief perceptions of human trafficking. Qualitative analyses identified three themes of police chief perceptions of human trafficking: conflation with prostitution, definitional debates and competing beliefs about prevalence. Training on identifying human trafficking would benefit small and rural police departments. Chiefs recommended outside assistance investigating human trafficking cases and other state-level resources would be helpful. Originality/value: Scant research exists on small and rural police departments in the United States, especially in regards to human trafficking. This study contributes to the literature by addressing this gap with a mixed-methods approach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law

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