Bringing Human Traffickers to Justice

The past few years have seen several improvements in prosecution and awareness of human trafficking crimes in the United States. After the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 was passed, there was a 360 percent increase in convictions of traffickers from 2001 to 2007. Between 2011 and 2015, there was a 62 percent increase in the number of cases filed with the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit. Growing public awareness is reflected in the rising number of calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which received 26,727 calls in 2016, a significant increase from 21,947 calls in 2015.

However, even with our rapidly increasing awareness of and response to modern slavery, governments and non-governmental organizations only spend an estimated $24 million globally to fight this $150 billion-dollar industry.

In the United States, only a fraction of all human trafficking cases are prosecuted because of the resources needed to prosecute these complex and often multi-jurisdictional cases that require coordination between labor inspectors, law enforcement, and victims service providers. Without greater resources, coordination, and awareness, perpetrators will continue to operate with near impunity.

Last Friday, Senator Brown (D-OH) and Senator Casey (D-PA) introduced a bill, S.1236, aimed at increasing prosecutions of human traffickers. The bill would designate a specific human trafficking justice coordinator to prosecute trafficking cases in each U.S. Attorney’s office.

The justice coordinator would facilitate relationships between federal, state and local law enforcement, relevant federal agencies, and victim service providers, building a network of stakeholders to help recognize human trafficking in communities and businesses. Trafficking—especially for labor—often hides in legitimate businesses’ supply chains, making it time-consuming and difficult to identify.

Already burdened by increasing caseloads, prosecutors alone lack the time and resources to investigate and prosecute these cases. By prioritizing forming a collaborative network of people to recognize and  jointly pursue all human trafficking crimes, S. 1236 addresses the need to increase prosecution and conviction of human traffickers.

The human trafficking coordinator would also develop expertise in prosecuting under trafficking statutes, utilizing that knowledge to identify best practices and disseminating that information to other prosecutors. This person would have a deep understanding of local laws and the trafficking climate, allowing them to assist and train law enforcement and government agents to recognize and investigate potential cases.

Based on data from the Department of Justice, districts with active collaboration between the Departments of Homeland Security, Labor, and Justice have seen a 119 percent increase in the number of human trafficking cases filed. A human trafficking coordinator would expand this model by building relationships with these agencies and organizations, and connecting them with state and local agencies and victim service providers.

Last year there were only 6,609 trafficking convictions globally. Only 297 of these convictions were in the United States. When you account for the estimated 20.9 million victims worldwide living in modern slavery, the number of prosecutions is pitiful. Setting up collaborative anti-trafficking infrastructure in communities across the United States would increase accountability for traffickers and begin to ensure more victims of trafficking see justice for these crimes. With a better understanding of trafficking crimes and the networks needed to prosecute traffickers, we can begin to eradicate modern slavery here at home.


Published on June 6, 2017


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