Combating Human Trafficking at the State and Local Levels

Sidebar to the article Sex Trafficking: Identifying Cases and Victims by Robert Moossy, J.D.

by Karen J. Bachar

As Robert Moossy makes clear in this article, local law enforcement agencies are often in the best position to identify human trafficking victims. Recent research, however, indicates the difficulty of uncovering and investigating human trafficking cases is often caused by a lack of training, the need for enhanced communication between local law enforcement and victim service agencies, and the hidden nature of this crime. Additionally, human trafficking may take a back seat to other priorities, such as violence and drugs.

Recent studies funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) have revealed a need to better understand the problem. One study, for example, found that in general, officers, prosecutors and service providers could not:

  • Identify types of trafficking (for example, trafficking in sexual exploitation or trafficking in general laborers).
  • List elements of trafficking.
  • Differentiate between severe and non-severe forms of trafficking.
  • Distinguish trafficking from smuggling.
  • Differentiate between domestic and international trafficking.

The same study also found communication gaps between local law enforcement and victim service agencies.[1]

Another NIJ study found that law enforcement agencies participating in the Department of Justice's human trafficking task forces are more likely to perceive human trafficking as a problem in their communities and to have training, protocols and specialized units of personnel devoted to investigating these cases.[2]

These findings highlight the need for additional training for and increased awareness among state and local criminal justice practitioners to help them recognize and prosecute trafficking cases either under state statutes or with federal partners. Promoting interagency cooperation remains vital.

About the Author

Karen Bachar has been a social science analyst in NIJ's Violence and Victimization Research Division since 2005. Her expertise is in the fields of violence and victimization, human trafficking, program evaluation and translating research into practice. Prior to joining NIJ, Bachar was the research director for violence prevention studies at the University of Arizona's Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health. Back to the top.

Notes

[1] Newton, P.J., T.M. Mulcahy, and S.E. Martin, Finding Victims of Human Trafficking (pdf, 208 pages), final report submitted to the National Institute of Justice, Washington, DC: September 2008 (NCJ 224393).

[2] Farrell, A., J. McDevitt, and S. Fahy, Understanding and Improving Law Enforcement Responses to Human Trafficking (pdf, 256 pages), final report submitted to the National Institute of Justice, Washington, DC: December 2008 (NCJ 222752).

Date Created: March 23, 2009