Congress asked the FBI to report annually on the number of human trafficking cases in the U.S. a decade ago, but the crime continues to be vastly under-reported, the American Society of Criminology was told Thursday.
In recently released data for 2017, the FBI found 994 commercial sex crime cases around the nation, but that is likely only a small fraction of the actual number, said criminologist Amy Farrell of Northeastern University.
Farrell studied three U.S. cities in the northeast, south and west and found indications of hundreds, if not thousands, of cases reported to medical and social service agencies, compared with the cities’ official count of about 600 cases.
The situation is similar to that involving hate crimes, in which experts say there are many more than are reflected in the FBI’s annual count, which was issued this week.
The International Labour Organization estimated that on any given day in 2016 there were more than 40 million victims of “modern slavery” worldwide, but it never has been very clear how many of these cases occur in the U.S., Farrell said, noting that many cases with a trafficking element end up being classified by police as simply prostitution crimes.
Last year, the FBI said state and local law enforcement agencies made more than 36,000 arrests in “prostitution and commercial vice” cases. When federal authorities get involved in human trafficking, the numbers aren’t very high.
In the seven years between 2006 and 2013, there were 4,030 such federal cases, Ryan Kling of Abt Associates told the criminologists. Of those cases, more than 90 percent led to convictions and the average prison term was more than 12 years.
Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report.