The U.S. State Department’s Office of to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons released its annual “Trafficking in Persons Report” (TIP Report) in June 2014. The report profiles countries and regions according to their anti-trafficking efforts. The theme of the 2014 report is “Journey from Victim to Survivor,” and emphasizes a victim-centered approach to combating human trafficking; the report highlights steps governments must take to support victims and help them move beyond their traumatic experiences.
Governments’ efforts to prevent and reduce human trafficking are ranked according to three tiers: Tier 1 countries are fully compliant with the minimum standards outlined in the Trafficking Victims Protections Act (TVPA), Tier 2 marks countries that are not yet in compliance but are working to achieve compliance and Tier 3 refers to countries that are not compliant and have shown no intention to become compliant. This brief will focus on TIP’s profile of the U.S., which has been assigned Tier 1 status since 2010, the year the State Department began including the U.S. in its analysis.
Human trafficking is defined by the State Department as “The act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.” Children under 18 who are prostituted are victims of sex trafficking; coercion is not required for the crime to be considered trafficking. Human trafficking can include physical movement to exploitative environments, but victims can also be born into trafficking and need not be literally transported across countries or regions to be trafficked.
In the U.S., all 50 states, all territories and the District of Columbia have laws to combat trafficking. However, comprehensive, wrap-around services are not available in all states and there is a severe lack of funding for victim-centered services. According to the report, children under 18 are still prosecuted rather than rehabilitated, despite the federal policy that children cannot consent to commercial sex acts. By the close of the reporting period, 18 states had enacted “safe harbor” laws that put federal policy either partially or fully into action, officially labeling minors as victims, and, in some states, providing services rather than penalization for this population.
Both foreign nationals and U.S. citizens are subjected to human trafficking in in environments ranging from domestic servitude to hospitality industries, health and elder care facilities, massage parlors, escort services and brothels. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) identified Native American women and LGBT youth as particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking; the report recommended screening for at-risk populations such as these, in additional to strengthening justice systems to better support Native American trafficking victims. The report also recommended better training for criminal and juvenile justice agencies, child welfare agencies, labor inspectors, health care professionals, social service agencies and first responders, with the expressed aim to better recognize what human trafficking looks like and improve treatment of victims.
NGOs also reported inadequate federal, state and local programs to address the sex trafficking of minors—particularly for boys and transgender youth. Gang-controlled trafficking rings and the proliferation of social media made it easier for traffickers to find and abuse victims, according to the report.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (ICE HSI), among other agencies, investigate trafficking offenses in the U.S. Offenses are prosecuted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Attorney’s Offices (USAO) for federal judicial districts, in addition to specialized units. Among the statistics highlighted in the report: The FBI formally investigated 514 cases involving the sex trafficking of minors in fiscal year 2013, an approximate 17 percent jump from the prior year. U.S. prosecutors charged 253 defendants from 161 federal human trafficking cases in fiscal year 2013.
The data in the TIP report are from U.S. agencies, U.S. embassies, national and international organizations, studies, published reports and tips submitted to the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Foreign governments also report data on investigations, prosecutions, convictions and sentences of human trafficking, but the authors of the TIP report note that the statistics are estimates due to the different ways countries categorize and report data.