Sex Trafficking

Here's What We Actually Know About Human Trafficking In America

Part one: no evidence that increasing penalties is linked to an increase in arrests or prosecutions.


Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice quietly released a report they had commissioned on "legislative, legal, and public opinions strategies that work" to combat human trafficking in America. What emerges from it is an interesting portrait of a solution in search of a crisis. 

The comprehensive report was conducted by political science professors Vanessa Bouche and Dana Wittmer, of Texas Christian University and Colorado College respectively, and Northeastern University criminology professor Amy Farrell. It's divided into three parts: evaluating how state counter-trafficking laws impact human trafficking arrests and prosecutions; analyzing state-level human trafficking cases; and understanding public opinion on human trafficking. I'm going to highlight the key results from each section in a series of three blog posts, starting with the relationship between state counter-trafficking measures and trafficking arrests and prosecutions. 

Looking at data between 2003 and 2012, researchers identified 3,225 human trafficking suspects in America, including state and federal cases. As I'll explore more in the next section, human-trafficking charges were dismissed in more than half of these cases, although nearly three-quarters eventually led to a conviction on some charges—generally offenses related to prostitution, pimping, and pandering. 

Regarding various types of state counter-trafficking laws, the measures most connected with an increase in human-trafficking arrests were those mandating the posting of the National Human-Trafficking Hotline Number in various public places. Posting the hotline was not, however, associated with an increase in trafficking prosecutions, suggesting that many of the "tips" provided to the hotline were insufficient or wrong. 

Laws creating state human-trafficking task forces were most associated with an increase in prosecutions of human trafficking suspects, on either human trafficking charges or for other criminal offenses. 

Though criminaliation-centered laws have been "the dominant legislative response" by states, there was no evidence that increased penalties were linked to an increase in arrests or prosecutions. 

Nonetheless, many states increased minimum and maximum penalties for human trafficking offenses between 2003-2012. As of 2012, almost all states had set mandatory minimum prison sentences for at least some human trafficking offenses; only 17 had none. (Since that time, states have continued to rack up penalties and introduce new mandatory minimums; see more here.) In general, penalties were most stringent for sex trafficking of a minor and least stringent for labor trafficking an adult.

In some states, the minimum penalty for human trafficking is 20 years in prison, while in others the maximum is just five to 10 years. The states with the harshest mandatory minimum were…

For sex-trafficking a minor: Alaska, Vermont, and Virginia (20 years); Louisiana, New York, and Tennessee (15 years)

For sex-trafficking an adult: Virginia (20 years); Alaska and New York (15 years); Ohio and Georgia (10 years); Kansas (9 years)

For labor-trafficking a minor: Vermont (20 years); Kansas (12 years); Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania (10 years)

For labor-trafficking an adult: Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, and Ohio (10 years); Kansas (9 years), and Colorado (10 years)

"The severity of the criminal penalty is not significant in any of the models, indicating that the harshness of the criminal penalty has no impact on the number of arrests and prosecutions for human trafficking," the researchers wrote. 

The 12 states with highest number of human trafficking arrests, combining both state and federal numbers, were: Texas (526 arrests), Florida (336), California (299), New York (227), Ohio (191), Washington (130), Georgia (105), Maryland (99), Oregon (84), Minnesota (83), New Mexico (78), and Massachusetts (72). 

The 12 states with the highest number of state-level human trafficking arrests were: California (58 arrests), Texas (41), Florida (29), Washington (27), Ohio (21), Massachusetts (20), Georgia (19), Illinois (18), Oklahoma (13), New Mexico (12), Michigan (11), and Minnesota (11)

The states with lowest number of human trafficking arrests overall (combining federal and state data) were: New Hampshire, with zero; West Virginia, with one; Idaho, with two; Arkansas, Montana, Delaware, and Wyoming with four; Alaska and Vermont with five; and Maine, Rhode Island, and North Dakota with eight. 

Fourteen states saw zero state-level human trafficking arrests between 2003-2012: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Another 19 states arrested less than 10 people for state human-trafficking offenses over the decade. South Dakota, Utah, and Vermont each made one human-trafficking arrest; Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Rhode Island each made two; Alabama and North Carolina each made three arrests; Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Oregon, and Tennessee each made four arrests; and Maryland and New York each arrested five people for human trafficking.

NEXT: atheists

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    1. Classy. Lol

  1. The day the federal government tells me I can’t engage in free commerce in humanity is the day the libertarian moment truly evaporates.

    1. Nah, it happened with the black/white photo of the handcuffed guy. Last time we got a woman, and in color.

    2. The Emancipation Proclamation is the worst decision the government ever made, I’ll tell ya what!

      1. Yup.
        /drinks beer in alley with Irish

      2. Magna Carta says “whaaaaaaaaaaaat”?

  2. Read it superficially. Has any one asked the victims of the confirmed traffickers whether they consider themselves victims of it? (Cf. sexual assault/rape.)

    1. That seems like a relevant question. You’d think someone would have thought of that. After all. All they care about is helping victims, right? (Ha ha)

      1. I’m not blaming moral zealots. It’s what they do — well, don’t do. But those critical of this campaign should raise and attach the question. And I want to know whether anyone did. The entire is way more interesting than momentary excitement. It’s an ancient dynamic (moral panic, with hunting), with a chance to understand it better, right now. It’s hilarious that they used the Super Bowl just like with domestic violence. (Did they use the coliseum and gladiator fighting in days past?)

  3. Those numbers are so low, is there any other crime that would not qualify as a higher priority for law enforcement?

    1. Yeah, but actual human trafficking is a big deal. Literal slavery, dude.

      1. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of jurisdiction in North Africa.

        1. Or Saudi Arabia. But I was talking about here in the US. Granted, most of the for-real labor trafficking is done by folks from MENA or other muslim countries.

          1. Mena? You mean to tell me the Clintons were running human beings as well as drugs through that airstrip?

          2. Yes, often times with people who are recent immigrants, don’t have a grasp of the language or their rights. I believe it’s vanishingly rare. But it does exist. It requires a lot of conditions to maintain it though.

            1. In antebellum times, it required massive government involvement.

              1. Quit bringing history into the discussion.

    2. Islamic terrorism?


      1. Well, you could make a case that slavery is part and parcel of islamic terrorism given that ISIS has no trouble whatsoever with it.

        1. Sooo, mosques are actually day labor centers??!!

  4. And while we may be justly skeptical of the government and anti-trafficking activists (thinly-veiled anti-prostitution fanatics), we should also remember that human trafficking and slavery is very real and does exist here. Mostly immigrants from islamic countries being kept as house slaves by other muslims.

    1. Serious question: is that a larger issue than the people essentially selling themselves into temporary slavery here so their families can come from Asia? Because it’s not reported on nearly as much.

      1. Our Scots-Irish ancestors did it, why shouldn’t Asians?

        The question of whether you can sell yourself into slavery (i.e. enter into a permanent agreement that someone can control you however they want for the rest of your life) is kind of an interesting one. I think the answer is no.

      2. I don’t know. While I’m personally uncomfortable with indentured servitude, there is a history of that in the US and it doesn’t violate libertarian principles. It’s still creepy and

        But I was talking about the handful of cases where they find a MENA/muslim family with a maid who is never paid, frequently beaten and not allowed out of the house.

        1. Oops.

          It’s still creepy and not something I’d waste any effort going to bat for.

          1. But, but tolerance and whatnot. Respect of other cultures. You know, and at the same time destroy the life of some businessman because he called an escort service while in San Fran on business.

            There’s a lot of hypocrisy in how they go after this. And it’s mostly geared to staying (officially) silent about how Muslims tend to treat their women while going after soft targets that are at the same time politically correct to go after according to SJWs.

            1. And it’s mostly geared to staying (officially) silent about how Muslims tend to treat their women while going after soft targets that are at the same time politically correct to go after according to SJWs.

              That’s called “punching down”.

              1. +1 honor beating

    2. I really think that is one of the worst things about the anti-trafficking activists. By trying to make it seem like all or most prostitutes are trafficked, they really dilute resources that could be used to fight the very real and heinous crime of actual human slavery, sexual or otherwise. Not legalizing voluntary prostitution is also a terrible thing for those who actually are forced into it.

      1. You assume that they actually give a shit about the people being actually trafficked. They don’t; their true motives are revealed by their actions.

        1. I assume for the sake of argument. I can see that a lot of the motivation is just anti-prostitution. But a lot of people get caught up in it and really believe.

          1. Sounds about as legit as man-made global warming. If it gets talked about enough it must be for real as well as a serious problem worth a great deal of attention.

        2. There are some that do – a woman I used to work with was actually caught up in that as a child, and so she has a *very* personal reason to crusade against trafficking. Unfortunately, I suspect she’s in the minority.

        3. “You assume that they actually give a shit about the people being actually trafficked. They don’t (…).” I’m not sure that’s generally true. Have a looked at this in depth, and talked to some of them?

  5. Human traffic can only be marginally worse than thus twosome that’s holding me up by pulling their gps out on every shot and grinding on putts longer than Jim Furyk.

    Jesus Christ. If you haven’t holed it in three putts pick it up and move to the next tee, you fucking bastard!

    1. No. Golf is the only thing worse than human trafficking.

      1. Fuck! Now two women are walking the cart path in the direction of the hole rather than against it. What the shit? This is a private fucking club, dammit.

        Where’s Carl Spackler?

        1. This is why women never should have been allowed club membership without a male escort.

          1. Oh it’s a pair of dudes. And they’re playing from the tips and can’t keep it in play. It’s windy but there is no excuse for somebody playing this poorly and this slow from the fucking tips.

            Do people not have any shame in this day and age?

            1. If you want perspective, here’s this: they’re playing as slow as a foursome of Korean women.

              1. foursome of Korean women.

                Go on…

  6. It looks like more suspects than victims.

  7. Shouldn’t there be a definition of what human trafficking actually IS first?

    Bart Hernandez, an agent for a major league baseball player was indicted today on trafficking charges. Apparently he has been helping players escape Cuba, probably for a fee they agreed to. So basically, FedGov has created yet another victimless crime.

    1. No, if we define it, it locks us in and therefore it’s hard to get grants and money.

  8. Though criminaliation-centered laws have been “the dominant legislative response” by states, there was no evidence that increased penalties were linked to an increase in arrests or prosecutions.

    This makes sense to me. You increase the penalties for something (you know, as a deterrent) and therefore you get less of it. A cousin of what is known as the “Butterfield Effect” naivete, where crime falls despite an increase in incarceration.

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  10. It’s curious how individual choices are generally given no weight in analyses of social problems, especially since from everything I’ve seen it’s about the single heaviest factor in most things.

    1. Like in this case–analyses will vary between saying it’s because they were poor, or undocumented, or retarded, or anything, anything but, because some other folks decided to enslave them and pulled it off con gran ?xito.

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  13. So, is organ trade/trafficking still a thing?

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