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  • Erin Haney

Human Trafficking: Identifying and Prosecuting Traffickers.

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

There might be a misconception that human trafficking is solely an international issue. But clearly human trafficking is an issue that affects us here in the United States and not just from an international perspective. There are many issues with identifying and stopping human trafficking in the United States and being able to prosecute the trafficking as a crime. According to an article by Priscilla Alvarez in The Atlantic, one problem is being able to identify victims and have them come forward to authorities in the first place. Many times, the victims themselves are afraid to be prosecuted especially in sex trafficking cases. The International Labor Organization estimates that there are approximately 20.9 million human trafficking victims worldwide, the majority of those victims are victims of sex trafficking. According to law enforcement who handle sex trafficking cases directly, many stories are the same: the victims are pulled into a vicious cycle.

Many women are pulled into sex trafficking through gangs or pimps. Detective William Woolf with the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force has experienced these cases first hand, and he stated that: “In gang-controlled situations, it’s usually going to be that the girl is from the area. When it’s a pimp … it’ll probably be girls from all over the place.” So even though some trafficking victims are international and therefore their cases involve more international rather than domestic criminal law, many victims are from right here in the United States.

Laws addressing human trafficking are still relatively new. In 2000, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act was passed in an effort to address growing concerns about human trafficking here in the United States. Additionally, as of 2015, all fifty states have passed laws similar to the Prevention Act that address human trafficking. The passage of these laws helps law enforcement prosecute, but there are still many issues with prosecuting human trafficking cases. Many trafficking prosecutions in the United States take place at the federal level. Unfortunately, this has created issues for prosecuting sex trafficking cases. Since states have more experience with prosecuting prostitution, they often mistakenly treat sex trafficking cases as prostitution. This means that many sex trafficking victims can be caught between “being viewed as a victim of trafficking under federal law and a prostitute under state law.” Additionally, prosecutor inexperience can contribute to inappropriate charges and convictions. For instance, if a prosecutor is more experienced with rape, prostitution, or kidnapping, they may be more likely to prosecute under these laws even if it would be more appropriate to prosecute under trafficking laws. Although steps have been taken by the legislature and law enforcement to address the issue of human trafficking, there is more to be done if our society will ever eradicate human trafficking altogether.

In conclusion, there have been some improvements regarding prosecution of human trafficking, but there are still many issues with the successful identification and prosecution of traffickers. Although there are many issues, perhaps prosecutorial training at both the state and federal level could be a beneficial start to further addressing this issue.


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