Human Trafficking Prosecutions Focus on Individuals, Not Cartels: BJS

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Cards created for She Dances, a non-profit at Eastern Illinois University whose mission is to provide healing and hope for girls who are victims of human trafficking. By evan courtney via Flickr

In 2018, prosecution of human trafficking was more likely to involve an individual offender rather than a group or business, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

The report, released Tuesday, broke down human trafficking into two categories: labor trafficking and sex trafficking. Labor trafficking could involve involuntary servitude or debt bondage, while sex trafficking could include commercial sex acts or coercion.

According to the report, participating law enforcement groups reported that arrests for involuntary servitude increased from 66 to 146 from 2015 to 2019.

While the report says that there were 562 arrests for commercial sex acts in 2019, the overall trend in commercial sex-act arrests has been stable from 2017 to 2019.

Out of those human-trafficking cases, a criminal prosecution was more likely than a civil one.

Sex trafficking was more commonly prosecuted rather than labor trafficking.

In cases of labor trafficking, it was more common for only adults to be involved as victims, rather than adults and minors. However sex trafficking cases were more likely to involve both minors and adults as victims.

The report sums up data provided by attorneys-general in 43 states, Washington D.C. and three territories on enforcement of their human trafficking laws in 2018.

BJS said data for 2019, 2020 and 2021 will be released in future years

Some 26 states and two territories only had criminal jurisdiction over labor trafficking offenses. Fourteen states and one territory had both civil and criminal jurisdiction while only two states had only civil jurisdiction and Washington D.C. had neither.

According to the report, the only two states with no labor-trafficking statutes were Maryland and Virginia.

This differed for sex trafficking cases. Some 30 states and two territories had only criminal jurisdiction over sex trafficking cases, Fourteen states and one territory had both civil and criminal jurisdiction; one state reported having only civil jurisdiction; and one state and Washington D.C. reported having neither.

In addition to statistics on cases of trafficking, the report also detailed how a majority of the states and territories that responded offered various resources to victims of trafficking. The most popular resources offered were housing, counseling and drug treatment.

Some respondents even offered tattoo removal, advocacy and other mental-health resources.

Additionally, some attorneys-general offices even offered educational programs to the community and other law enforcement on human-trafficking awareness.

The bureau also released a report detailing the various data collections that were either ongoing or completed in 2020.

In addition to the survey report previously mentioned, the data collection report detailed the Criminal Cases in State Courts (CCSC) collection, the Census of Tribal Law Enforcement Agencies (CTLEA), the National Survey of Victim Service Providers (NSVSP), the National Corrections Reporting Program (NCRP), and the National Crime Statistics Exchange (NCS-X) Initiative.

The Uniform Crime Reporting system that the FBI uses is currently in the process of changing to an incident-based reporting system, which will give much more opportunity to explain more detail in cases of human trafficking, specifically concerning more demographic details about the victim, and more details about the incident as a whole.

According to a 2019 USA Today article, there are more than four million victims of sex trafficking across the globe. Most are girls, and runaway and foster care children are more vulnerable to fall victim to trafficking.

While girls are more likely to be sex trafficked, boys are more likely to be labor trafficked, said a United Nations report from February.

Although the report signifies the importance of documenting human trafficking crimes, it notes that human trafficking crimes themselves can be largely unreported by agencies as well as victims.

“Traffickers particularly target the most vulnerable, such as migrants and people without jobs,” said the UN report.

And while the coronavirus has kept more people in their homes, the recession associated with the pandemic is “likely to expose more people to the risk of trafficking,” said the UN report.

“In the face of limited economic opportunity, some are engaging in ‘survival sex’ as a method for making ends meet during the financial crisis,” wrote author Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco in a recent “Viewpoint” in The Crime Report.

“If Americans want to end modern slavery, we must prioritize evidence-based interventions that significantly increase victim identification and protection, as well as offender prosecution, while preventing new crimes.”

You can read the full report on human trafficking offenses here.

Read Mehlman-Orozco’s article here: COVID-19, the Commercial Sex Industry and Sex Trafficking

 Emily Riley is a TCR Justice Reporting intern

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