Federal efforts to combat human trafficking in the U.S. have slowed under the Trump administration, according to government data and human trafficking advocates, Axios reports.
There are thousands of trafficking victims in the U.S., including children trafficked into prostitution and agricultural and domestic workers who are paid little or nothing. The Trump administration has cut back on prosecutions of these crimes and assistance to victims.
Last year, the National Human Trafficking Hotline identified almost 15,000 people who were likely trafficked. That’s more than any year since at least 2012. The number of defendants charged with human trafficking by federal attorneys fell to 386 last year, from 553 in 2017, according to the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.
So far this year, federal attorneys have prosecuted 39 percent of the cases referred to them with child sex trafficking as the lead charge, according to Syracuse University.
That’s down from 49 percent in the last year of the Obama administration.
Investigations are down: In 2018, the Justice Department opened just 657 trafficking investigations, down from 1,800 in 2016, according to the TIP reports. The Trump administration recently made it more difficult for victims of sex trafficking to clear their criminal records.
“The criminal justice system harms victims by saddling them with criminal convictions for crimes they were forced to commit by their traffickers,” said Martina Vandenberg of the Human Trafficking Legal Center.
Still, the Department of Homeland Security increased the number of specialists working with human trafficking investigators by 70 percent last year, says the TIP report.
DOJ “continues to prioritize fighting violent crime, including human trafficking,” and remains “deeply committed to securing restitution for victims and survivors of human trafficking,” said spokesman Peter Carr.