Prosecution of Human Trafficking Offenders in the United States

Prosecuting human trafficking offenders in the United States is a difficult task at best as public policy does not always support the criminal justice system.  Over the past ten years the United States implemented strong public policy measures to address human trafficking and implemented sentencing guidelines to punish traffickers.  Prosecution is what I would call the strong arm of the law, or the enforcement behind the law.  The only way to deter a group from trafficking is by punishment or prosecution for crimes committed.  It is estimated that somewhere between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. every year.  Only 103 prosecutions were delivered in the U.S. in 2010, which is extremely low compared to the number of human trafficking incidents that exist.

To examine prosecution and its ineffectiveness on human trafficking we have to look at the criminal justice system and where that system is flawed.  The United States has shown tremendous leadership and growth in developing counter human trafficking laws, however there are some problems as well.   In the U.S. each state is sovereign and has its own court system that is separate from the federal court system.  This means that if a perpetrator is convicted for human trafficking in an individual state court that delivers a lower sentence they could serve their time and be released only to commit the crime again.  In the U.S. we also have a law called double jeopardy which means that someone cannot be prosecuted for the same crime twice.  Someone being prosecuted in state court for human trafficking cannot also be prosecuted in federal court for the same crime.

No wonder there are so few prosecutions against human traffickers in the United States, there are too many loopholes.  To date, there is no mainstreamed process of prosecution with regards to alleged offenders in the U.S.  For many decades there has been public policy in just about every state that addresses sex crimes which includes prostitution.  Over the past decade many states have also adopted sex trafficking as a crime and have implemented harsh punishments and sentencing guidelines.  However, just recently more states have realized that in order to address human trafficking issues in totality they have to implement laws addressing slave labor and domestic servitude as a human trafficking crime.    Some states are even beginning to take a look at possible organ harvesting as a human trafficking crime, depending on the circumstances.

It will undoubtedly be a long time before the U.S. has a mainstream one track effort to address human trafficking crimes for prosecution; however most states are on the right track.  Through awareness of all aspects of human trafficking public policy can begin to take shape in each state that will allow prosecuting these crimes to become much easier.  Prosecutors can only utilize what the law gives them as tools to pursue justice.  Law makers need the public to continue to open their eyes and make them aware of the seriousness of human trafficking and why this issue is imperative to our country’s growth in criminal justice public policy.

We as U.S. citizens can play a part in shaping public policy by continuing to push for new laws which address human trafficking in our own individual state of residence. It is our responsibility as American citizens to address this issue in our own capacity by creating awareness in our communities, informing our policy makers of possible public policy change, and supporting our criminal justice and legislative systems by voting for positive change.  If you would like to do your part you can track human trafficking public policy and legislative activities and get involved by clicking here.  Perhaps through a united voice we can all do our part to help change public policy in the United States and give prosecutors the tools they need to punish human trafficking offenders.



    • Jenny M. on 15 February, 2012 at 4:02 pm
    • Reply

    In your article you mentioned there are still too many “loopholes” in our laws to effectively prosecute those involved in sex trafficking. Can you give a few examples of those loopholes? I don’t know details on sex trafficking issues/laws, but I thought the recent TVPA was supposed to solve many of the problems that prosecutors were having? Have you seen anything in particular that allows prosecutors to prosecute more effectively?

    Thanks and great article!

      • Sarah Anderson on 29 February, 2012 at 9:07 am
      • Reply

      Hi Jenny:
      Thank you for your post and questions. Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. The reason there are so many loopholes is because here in the U.S. we have sovereignty meaning we have the federal laws and the TVPA is a good start but each state has their own separate set of laws to address human trafficking, sex trafficking, drug trafficking, prostitution, etc. Here is the problem, if someone gets arrested in let’s just say Nebraska for example for sex trafficking. They could be prosecuted under Federal law or under Nebraska law, it just depends on how the prosecution decides to handle it, but it cannot be both because that is what is considered double jeopardy which means we can’t prosecute someone twice for the same crime committed once. So let’s say for argument sake (and I am not certain about Nebraska law) that the individual is prosecuted in Nebraska for sex trafficking. Nebraska gives the person a ten year sentence backup but they only do three years in prison and serve five years parole/probation. That is actually considered a stiff penalty. If this person is a sex trafficker and well organized they will simply serve three years or even get out earlier because many systems allow time served for good behavior and then jump parole, change their name and move to another state. Human traffickers don’t usually have high regard for the law and are usually well connected. They smuggle people in illegally and have the means to travel and move around the country and internationally.
      The solution to the problem, in my opinion is to have one national system to universally address the problem but in order to do that we have to take away the separation of powers from the states individually with regards to trafficking. In the interest of national security there should be some issues, in my opinion, that are dealt with only on a national system. The good news about the TVPA is that it does give states the tools and resources to draft tougher legislation on human trafficking and many states are in the process of doing this in an effort to close these loopholes.
      One tool that would help prosecutors with this issue is to implement a mandatory minimum sentencing guideline with regards to sex trafficking in all states and particularly with regards to child sex trafficking.
      I hope that answers your question and thank you again for your post!
      Sarah Anderson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.