Since 2000, when Congress passed a law triggering a worldwide war on human trafficking, President Bush has blanketed the U.S. with 42 Justice Department task forces and spent more than $150 million — all to find and help the estimated hundreds of thousands of victims of forced prostitution or labor. The administration has identified only 1,362 victims of human trafficking brought into the U.S. since 2000, nowhere near the 50,000 a year the government had estimated. Some 148 federal cases have been brought nationwide, some by the task forces, which are composed of prosecutors, agents from the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and local law enforcement officials in areas thought to be hubs of trafficking.
Ronald Weitzer, a criminologist at George Washington University, said trafficking is a hidden crime whose victims often fear coming forward. He said that might account for some of the disparity in the numbers, but only a small amount. “The discrepancy between the alleged number of victims per year and the number of cases they’ve been able to make is so huge that it’s got to raise major questions,” Weitzer said. “It suggests that this problem is being blown way out of proportion.” Administration officials acknowledge that they have found fewer victims than anticipated. Tony Fratto, deputy White House press secretary, said the issue is “not about the numbers. It’s really about the crime and how horrific it is.” Fratto said the domestic response to trafficking “cannot be ripped out of the context” of the U.S. government’s effort to fight it abroad. “We have an obligation to set an example for the rest of the world, so if we have this global initiative to stop human trafficking and slavery, how can we tolerate even a minimal number within our own borders?”