By Dr. Brian Blodgett
Faculty Member, Homeland Security, American Military University
Human trafficking continues to be a worldwide problem, and the United States is not exempt from this horrific blight on our civilization.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were 10,949 cases reported of human trafficking cases in 2018 involving one or more potential victims per case; this is nearly a 25 percent increase from the 8,773 cases reported in 2017.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline distinguishes between high indicators and moderate indicators. Cases categorized as high indicators contain numerous indicators of human trafficking. Moderate coded cases contain several indicators of human trafficking. They might also resemble common trafficking scenarios but lack core details of force, fraud or coercion.
This data provides more than just the number of cases; it gives us a better picture of how many victims and survivors there were with 14,701 categorized as high and 21,864 as moderate in 2018.
4 Types of Trafficking
The Hotline lists four types of trafficking for the 10,949 cases identified in 2018:
- Sex trafficking: 72 percent
- Labor trafficking: 11 percent
- Unspecified trafficking: 11 percent
- Sex and labor trafficking: 6 percent
The gender of the individuals involved trafficking was not always reported. But of those cases that reported gender statistics, females were victims in 86 percent of the cases.
Likewise, ages were not always reported, but of those cases that reported ages, adults comprised 68 percent of the cases and minors 32 percent.
Since 2014, the number of reported cases in the United States has more than doubled and the number of victims and survivors identified has more than tripled. But the types of victims, the gender and the age has remained at nearly the same percentages overall.
19 States Were above the National Average in Sex Trafficking Cases
The national average of victims to population in the United States is 0.0031 percent. In 2018, 19 states were above the national average. The highest number of cases was in Nevada with 313 cases out of a population of slightly over three million.
The state with the most reported trafficking cases was California, with 1,656 cases out of a population of over 39 million; this represents 0.0042 percent of the state’s population.
The state with the lowest percent of cases was New Hampshire at 0.0008 percent, or 11 reported cases out of a population of over 1.35 million residents. That was also the fewest number of reported cases nationwide.
Nine of the top 10 states with the highest number of reported cases in 2018 remained the same as in 2017, with the exception of Illinois, which ranked 34th in 2017.
- California – 1,656
- Texas – 1,000
- Florida – 767
- New York – 492
- Ohio – 443
- Michigan – 383
- Georgia – 375
- Nevada – 313
- Illinois – 296
- North Carolina – 287
Sex Trafficking Is Modern-Day Slavery
According to April Nicole Russo, assistant U.S. attorney for Michigan’s Eastern District and the Human Trafficking Coordinator for the district, sex trafficking is modern-day slavery. “Pimps are finding the most vulnerable members of our society, and exploiting that vulnerability for their own personal gain,” Russo said. “Worldwide, traffickers are earning over $150 billion a year in profit from this illegal trade.”
While there is no official estimate of the number of human trafficking victims in the United States, cited the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s estimate that one out of seven runaways is a victim of sex trafficking, and the average age is 13 years old.
“It involves the illegal trade of people for exploitation or for a commercial gain. It impacts all socio-economic groups. It involves men and women, boys and girls, and it’s happening right here,” Russo added.
What Is Being Done?
While Russo and others fight to protect U.S. citizens from human traffickers through the legal system, more still needs to be done to stem this illegal activity. The U.S. State Department reported 14,894 prosecutions and 9,071 convictions for trafficking worldwide in 2016. In the United States, the Department of Justice convicted 439 human traffickers, up from 297 in 2015 and 184 in 2014.
Since 2017, 22 bills mentioning “human trafficking” have become law; another 235 bills have failed. One stands out as being important to our criminal justice system.
In June 2017, the House of Representatives and the Senate introduced bipartisan bills, H.R.2803 and S.1311 respectively. They set forth a variety of measures to address the prevention and punishment of human trafficking and to assist trafficking victims. President Trump signed the Abolish Human Trafficking Act of 2017, which became Public Law No. 115-392 in December 2018.
Section 15 of the law, Human Trafficking Justice Coordinators, directs the U.S. Attorney General to designate at least one assistant United States attorney in each of the 94 federal judicial districts to serve as the Human Trafficking Coordinator for the district. Those assistant U.S. attorneys will work with human trafficking victim-witness specialists and be responsible for, among other things:
- Prosecuting, or assisting in the prosecution of, human trafficking cases
- Conducting public outreach and awareness activities relating to human trafficking·
- Coordinating with other federal agencies, state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies, victim service providers, and other relevant non-governmental organizations to build partnerships on activities relating to human trafficking.
2018 at a Glance
Despite passage of the Abolish Human Trafficking Act of 2017, the 2018 Federal Human Trafficking Report found 171 new criminal trafficking cases in federal courts in 2018; 95 percent were sex trafficking cases and 5 percent were labor trafficking. This brought the number of active human trafficking cases in the federal courts system to 771 and 1,217 defendants.
Of the 171 cases, 51.6 percent involved sex trafficking of children and 16.3 percent were sex trafficking of adults. Another 16.2 percent involved sex trafficking of adults and children, 8,4 percent were sting sex trafficking cases with no victims, 2.4 percent were sex trafficking cases where the age was not disclosed, and 5.1 percent were labor trafficking.
A total of 359 cases were resolved in 2018, with a conviction rate of 96.4 percent. The average sentence was 11 years and three months; for cases involving children only, convicted felons faced an average of 12 years and seven months in prison. Eight defendants received life sentences.
Human trafficking data for 2019 likely will not be available until sometime in 2020. It is hoped that with the Abolish Human Trafficking Act of 2017 in effect and the increase of at least 94 assistant U.S. attorneys that the nation’s tougher stance on human trafficking will have a positive impact and we may begin to see a decrease in the number of human trafficking cases.
About the Author
Dr. Brian Blodgett is an alumnus of American Military University who graduated in 2000 with a master of arts in military studies and a concentration in land warfare. He retired from the U.S. Army in 2006 as a Chief Warrant Officer after serving over 20 years, first as an infantryman and then as an intelligence analyst. He is a 2003 graduate of the Joint Military Intelligence College where he earned a master of science in strategic intelligence with a concentration in South Asia. He graduated from Northcentral University in 2008, earning a doctorate in philosophy in business administration with a specialization in homeland security.
Dr. Blodgett has been a part-time faculty member, a full-time faculty member and a program director. He is currently a full-time faculty member in the School of Security and Global Studies and teaches homeland security and security management courses.