COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) – Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost and 35 other attorneys general have organized and sent a letter to Congress expressing their fears about the current state of the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

The letter states, “We cannot afford to lose the benefits of this federal-state partnership to end trafficking.”

Polaris is the nonprofit company that has operated the national hotline since 2007.

Yost said in a news release that the company’s job is to quickly relay tips to local law enforcement agencies, however, it was recently discovered that Polaris only forwards tips about adult victims in limited circumstances, in some cases taking months to forward tips.

“Without proper data, we don’t know how large of a problem we’re facing,” Yost said. “Tips from the national hotline need to get to local law enforcement quickly, as they are the boots on the ground who are making an impact in this fight.” 

National Human Trafficking Hotline funding is authorized by Congress, and Yost said it’s an important tool for local law enforcement to locate traffickers.

“The hotline is not performing the services it is already funded to perform,” the attorneys general wrote in their letter to congressional leaders. “Without changes to Polaris’ operating procedures, our state anti-trafficking initiatives gain little from participation in the national hotline. As such, individual states may be forced to establish their own state hotlines, as some already have begun to do.”

The attorneys general urge Congress to compel Polaris to begin promptly forwarding tips about potential human trafficking situations.

Catherine Chen, CEO of Polaris, released the following statement in response on Tuesday:

“Unfortunately, the concerns raised are based on a misunderstanding of the mission of the National Human Trafficking Hotline. The Trafficking Hotline is not primarily a law enforcement tip line but rather is authorized by Congress and funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service to “assist victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons in communicating with service providers.

To serve this mission, the Trafficking Hotline must have the trust of victims and survivors we serve. To that end, the Trafficking Hotline does not report their situations to law enforcement without their consent. Instead, the Trafficking Hotline works with victims to determine what they need to begin to break free and rebuild their lives. This is important because traffickers take consent, choice, and freedom away from victims. To effectively support survivors is to return to them control over their own lives and choices. When and if victims and survivors choose to involve law enforcement, the Trafficking Hotline supports the process every step of the way. 

The Hotline is a mandated reporter, and all situations involving abuse, neglect and trafficking of children are reported to law enforcement, as are situations where immediate and escalating violence can be heard or observed. 

Polaris is deeply committed to ensuring traffickers are held accountable and are stopped from being able to continue to victimize people. We actively partner with hundreds of law enforcement agencies all over the country to ensure countless traffickers are arrested and justice is served. 

We look forward to continuing to engage our law enforcement partners, including the attorneys general’ offices, as well as thousands of social service agencies, survivor leaders, and community leaders who we partner with, to ensure the Trafficking Hotline fulfills its mission to provide a safe and trusted place for victims and survivors to get connected to help.”

Catherine Chen, CEO of Polaris

Chelsea Simeon contributed to this report.