US human trafficking cases slipping through cracks: report

Source:Xinhua Published: 2012-6-21 13:29:22

Cases of human trafficking are rarely prosecuted in the US despite a recent surge of federal and state laws aimed at combating modern day slavery, a report released Wednesday found.

Researchers from the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center and Northeastern University's Institute on Race and Justice found that police, prosecutors, judges, juries, and government officials lack awareness of human trafficking law and do not consider such cases a priority.

As a result, many cases are overlooked by state and federal legal systems.

"Our study showed that our legal systems are further concealing the nature and prevalence of these crimes," said the Urban Institute's Colleen Owens, adding that law enforcement and prosecutors "unintentionally reinforce the idea that human trafficking is not a problem in the United States."

The researchers analyzed data from 140 closed human trafficking cases in 12 counties nationwide, reviewed 530 incident reports of related crimes and interviewed 166 law enforcement officials, prosecutors and service providers.

They found that only 7 percent of cases resulted in a state or federal sex trafficking charge, 9 percent in a sex trafficking of a minor charge, and 2 percent in a labor trafficking charge.

The study also found that high rates of trafficking victims are being arrested, including minors, and illegal migrant victims are being deported, despite federal legal protections.

The study also found that local law enforcement have trouble identifying and investigating cases for a number of reasons, including insufficient resources and lack of specialized units to look into labor trafficking cases. They often lack language skills and cultural knowledge to communicate with immigrant communities.

They also lack victim support services, such as safe housing, and in some instances police harbored negative views of victims, the study found.

State prosecutors have difficulty pursuing trafficking cases because they lack legal precedent and because there are no incentives to pursue trafficking cases.

In some cases, they are unaware of their states' anti- trafficking laws, and often believe victims lack credibility because they are undocumented migrants or runaways.

Prosecutors also have a hard time getting victims to cooperate due to fear, intimidation, or trauma and lack training in using their states' laws to litigate and investigate cases.

Owens said the findings are not nationally representative, "so we can't project those findings on the entire country."

The report comes a day after the US State Department released its annual Trafficking in Persons report, which gives nations worldwide a ranking -- tier 1 is the best and tier 3 is the worst - - for their efforts in combating trafficking.

While it received a tier 1 rating -- the highest possible -- activist groups said the US often fails to protect victims of human trafficking, defined as coercion into sex work or labor.

And while the State Department report focuses on the federal government's anti-trafficking efforts, a number of US states fail to provide victims -- both children and adults -- with the full legal protection that activists say they need.

According to the anti-trafficking group Polaris Project, 42 states lack "safe harbor" laws, which recognize that minors trafficked into commercial sex are victims and prevent them from being prosecuted for prostitution.

Activist groups are also pushing more states to implement " vacating conviction" laws -- the majority of states have not yet done so -- which ensure that sex trafficking victims are not treated as criminals and that prostitution convictions be expunged from their records.

Posted in: Americas

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