The Present Roadblocks to Human Trafficking Conviction & Prosecution
One of the greatest barriers faced by those trying to end modern-day slavery is the struggle to prosecute and convict human traffickers for their heinous crimes. From the elusive nature of the industry to the failure of governments in recognizing and reporting the issue, there are a plethora of reasons why prosecutors produce marginal convictions in light of an ever-growing, expansive industry. The institutional solidarity needed to enact prosecutorial punishments upon those responsible for slavery’s existence is lackluster. In all, the desire to fix the miscarriages wrought by modern-day slavery is hindered by the inability of governments to effectively punish its perpetrators through existing criminal justice statutes.
The struggle to convict human traffickers remains a problem for both developed and developing countries alike.
The struggle to convict human traffickers remains a problem for both developed and developing countries alike. In fact, not all countries have legislation in place that criminalizes the industry of human trafficking -- and where legislation does exist, it is widely variable. A study from the Revue internationale de droit pénal reveals that “countries differ on whether or not they include internal trafficking of their own citizens under human trafficking violations. Where legislation is in place, the lack of political will, inexperience in conducting investigations and prosecutions or corrupt practices contribute to minimal successes in the prosecution of traffickers.” In addition, this study concludes that “where action is taken and statistics are collected, there is often no centralized agency collecting data on human trafficking.” In other words, human trafficking is an issue that is struggling to be recognized in a uniform way on the global agenda.
Thus, the gaps in reporting mechanisms, coupled with the varied tactics of different governments, produce an incoherent, highly variable approach to solving a problem that demands solidarity and coherence. With the creation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, there has been a 360 percent increase in convictions of traffickers during the first seven years of its establishment. Despite this increase, such results nowhere near compensate for the slim minority of cases that result in convictions.
Human Rights First reveals that, in the United States, “only a fraction of all human trafficking cases are prosecuted because of the resources needed to prosecute these complex and often multi-jurisdictional cases that require coordination between labor inspectors, law enforcement, and victims service providers.” It remains widely agreed upon that the main challenge faced by prosecutors remains the lack of a collaborative relationship between the different agencies fighting the issue. From a multitude of non-profits to the various law enforcement agencies that exist, there are many people independently fighting back against an industry that requires more than just an individualized effort to solve.
The issue of independence is consequently exacerbated by other problems that make it difficult for prosecutors to reprimand those responsible for human trafficking’s daunting occurrence. The elusive nature of the crime makes it hard for law enforcement to identify instances of human trafficking and arrest those responsible for perpetuating it. A dissertation from the University of Central Florida highlights this elusivity as it illuminates the fact that, “human trafficking tends to occur behind closed doors with the use of legitimate business fronts making it very difficult to account for all the victims.” In addition, it is common for traffickers to hide their victims and psychologically coerce them to stay quiet through emotional and physical abuse. The manipulative tactics employed by traffickers render it a time-consuming task for law enforcement as they struggle to collaborate with individuals who refuse to testify and self-identify as victims in court.
Accordingly, the hidden nature of the human trafficking industry creates a dilemma for those trying to punish its culprits via institutional criminal justice systems. It is extremely difficult to prosecute someone who only has a marginal chance of conviction. From faulty and unreliable witnesses to a lack of precedence from which prosecutors can base their legal proceedings, a study submitted to the National Institute of Justice found that “reluctance on the part of prosecutors to take trafficking cases, in turn, led to an institutional resistance from law enforcement to investigate cases of human trafficking that they felt would never result in a prosecution.”
A study submitted to the National Institute of Justice found that “reluctance on the part of prosecutors to take trafficking cases, in turn, led to an institutional resistance from law enforcement to investigate cases of human trafficking that they felt would never result in a prosecution.”
Subsequently, reluctant prosecutors and law enforcement officers “would rather prosecute cases using existing laws they were more familiar with, such as rape, kidnapping, or promoting prostitution.” This trend creates an endemic of misclassification in the criminal justice system; that is, instances of human trafficking are largely reported and charged as offenses classified as other crimes which undermine the true extent of the problem. The question remains: how can we begin to solve a problem that is not recognized by the very people whose jobs are to convict the perpetrators of this crime?
The question remains: how can we begin to solve a problem that is not recognized by the very people whose jobs are to convict the perpetrators of this crime?
The FBI did not begin to begin to mandate the collection of human trafficking data in the national Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program until 2013. The consequences of this resulted in the absence of a classification for human trafficking offenses in many state arrest reports until then. The recency of this push to classify human trafficking as an offense signifies two major conclusions: 1) the fight to acknowledge the significance of human trafficking is ongoing in the most developed of countries like the United States and 2) Although the issue is still being fought for, it is on a trajectory of progress that is slowly but surely moving towards tangible change.
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About the Author
Sarah Beech is a Junior at the University of Texas at Austin who is studying psychology and government. She is most passionate about fighting against the various human rights abuses that occur around us. In her free time she likes to watch Netflix, hang out with her friends, and try new restaurants. Her favorite quote is, "Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game" (from A Cinderella Story).