In 2013, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received reports of trafficking from all 50 states and the District of Columbia and estimated that 60,100 people were enslaved in labor and sex trafficking nationwide. But few departments recognize the problem or have specialized officers to investigate cases.
“Police Responses to Human Trafficking” identified several challenges facing police in the recognition of human trafficking cases. Among these are the evolving legal definitions of human trafficking, a lack of public support for adult victims, a shortage of training on the issue, few specialists in the area, the ineffectiveness of traditional crime control tactics, and lack of organizational structure to support investigation of human trafficking. Prosecutors have faced similar problems in taking these cases to court and, as a result, few traffickers have been charged with the crime.
According to Jurek who authored the report, one of the effective ways to address these crimes is through the use of task forces, which combine the resources of law enforcement and social service agencies. As an example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation initiated Operation Cross Country in 2003, an annual event where the agency partners with local, state and federal agencies to identify, investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases. These operations target truck stops, casinos, street tracks and escort websites for prostitution offenses, which help to identify trafficking organizations.
In 2015, Operation Cross Country involved more than 500 law enforcement officers in 135 cities across the country and resulted in the identification of 149 child victims of sex trafficking and the arrest of 150 exploiters. Victims received crisis intervention and basic resources through the FBI’s Office of Victim Assistance.
“Law enforcement responses to human trafficking have faced significant challenges at both the individual officer and agency level, but advances in police education and training, organizational policy, and collaboration with the social services sector may facilitate more proactive and positive responses to human trafficking,” said Jurek, a second year Ph.D. student in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Sam Houston State University.
“Police responses to Human Trafficking” is the fifth issue in a special series published by the Crime Victims’ Institute that has provided an overview of the multifaceted nature of human trafficking in the United States and internationally. Edited by Dr. Cortney Franklin, series issues, including “Police Response to Human Trafficking” are available from the Crime Victims’ Institute at http://www.crimevictimsinstitute.org/publications/.
For more information about the issue, visit the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (trafficking resourcecenter.org), call the FBI at 1-800-225-5324, or download a model law enforcement policy on human trafficking at http://www.iacp.org/portals/0/pdfs/CompleteHTGuide.pdf