Report avail­able on Northeastern’s Web site

BOSTON –A team of researchers at North­eastern University’s Insti­tute on Race and Jus­tice, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ari­zona State Uni­ver­sity and Sam Houston State Uni­ver­sity, has issued a report about the inci­dence of and response to human traf­ficking in the United States. Lead by prin­cipal inves­ti­ga­tors Assis­tant Pro­fessor Amy Far­rell, Ph.D., and Asso­ciate Dean Jack McDe­vitt, the researchers con­ducted a random survey of law enforce­ment agen­cies throughout the United States to better under­stand how agen­cies iden­tify and respond to sus­pected cases of human trafficking.Previous research has pro­vided lim­ited infor­ma­tion on human traf­ficking cases, from spe­cific juris­dic­tions, while this survey pro­vides the first com­pre­hen­sive national look at how local, state and county law enforce­ment agen­cies respond to human trafficking.

The report, enti­tled “Under­standing and Improving Law Enforce­ment Responses to Human Traf­ficking,” was made pos­sible by a grant from the National Insti­tute of Jus­tice and is now avail­able online at: http://​www​.humantraf​ficking​.neu​.edu/​n​e​w​s​_​r​e​p​o​r​t​s​/​r​e​p​o​r​ts/

Human traf­ficking is con­sid­ered one of the most brutal vio­la­tions of human rights. Recently, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has made it a pri­ority to pros­e­cute human traf­ficking at all law enforce­ment agency levels. The Depart­ment of Jus­tice esti­mates that between 14,500 and 17,500 people are traf­ficked annu­ally into the United States, but with lim­ited infor­ma­tion about the preva­lence of the problem, these num­bers are only esti­mates. This study pro­vides the first com­pre­hen­sive count of how often law enforce­ment agen­cies come into con­tract with inci­dents of human traf­ficking in their local communities.

The first part of this report details how law enforce­ment agen­cies per­ceive human traf­ficking and how they inves­ti­gate such cases. The National Law Enforce­ment Human Traf­ficking Survey was sent to a random sample of approx­i­mately 3,000 state, county and munic­ipal law enforce­ment agen­cies in the United States. The results indi­cate that all types of law enforce­ment agen­cies, large and small, have inves­ti­gated at least one case of human traf­ficking, but local law enforce­ment agen­cies per­ceive human traf­ficking as rare or non-​​existent in their juris­dic­tion. In addi­tion, agen­cies in larger juris­dic­tions are more likely to dis­tin­guish human traf­ficking as a problem in their area, as evi­denced by the fact that more than half of the agen­cies serving large juris­dic­tions have inves­ti­gated human traf­ficking cases.

The data clearly shows that while many per­ceive human traf­ficking to be rare, a larger than expected pro­por­tion of law enforce­ment agen­cies have inves­ti­gated one or more cases of human traf­ficking,” said Far­rell, the Asso­ciate Director of the Insti­tute on Race and Jus­tice and Assis­tant Pro­fessor in the Col­lege of Crim­inal Jus­tice. “The data from this survey sug­gest that if agen­cies pre­pare their offi­cers to iden­tify cases of human traf­ficking and pro­vide resources for inves­ti­ga­tions their agen­cies are quite likely to find cases and arrest offenders.”

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment also funds human traf­ficking task forces, made up of Fed­eral, State and local law enforce­ment, and local ser­vice providers. Agen­cies asso­ci­ated with these task forces gen­er­ally have higher reporting and response rates due to more avail­able training, per­sonnel and pro­to­cols. Small agen­cies are less likely than larger law enforce­ment agen­cies and task force agen­cies to have spe­cial­ized human traf­ficking units or policies.

The second part of the project involved a detailed survey for those agen­cies who had reported the inves­ti­ga­tion of a case of human traf­ficking. Between 2000 and 2006, the number of human traf­ficking inves­ti­ga­tions climbed from 175 reported cases to 750 in 2006. A majority of the agen­cies reported spending more time on sex traf­ficking cases, and approx­i­mately 62% of all traf­ficking vic­tims in these inves­ti­ga­tions were under the age of 25. In addi­tion, the majority of the vic­tims involved in sex traf­ficking were female, and for those agen­cies who reported labor traf­ficking cases, more vic­tims were male.

A large majority of law enforce­ment agen­cies who had iden­ti­fied cases of human traf­ficking in their juris­dic­tion – 92% – reported a con­nec­tion between human traf­ficking and other crim­inal net­works. About 52% of the cases of human traf­ficking were iden­ti­fied during the course of an inves­ti­ga­tion for another crime, such as drug abuse, pros­ti­tu­tion or domestic vio­lence. The data also shows that law enforce­ment agen­cies reported that many human traf­ficking inves­ti­ga­tions do not result in an arrest, but when they do, a con­vic­tion is highly likely.

The study also looked at the multi-​​agency human traf­ficking task forces to better under­stand how the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is working to bring together fed­eral, state, county and local law enforce­ment agen­cies to combat human traf­ficking. There are cur­rently 39 task forces func­tioning nation­ally with a focus on a victim-​​centered response. The study found that when a task force is involved, a case of human traf­ficking is more likely to be inves­ti­gated, resulting in higher rates of arrests and fed­eral charges than non-​​task force agency human traf­ficking reported cases.

The team took a par­tic­ular look at three multi-​​agency task force case studies – in Boston, Phoenix and Houston. In Boston, they looked at how the Boston Police Depart­ment is involved in proac­tively iden­ti­fying youth at risk for sex traf­ficking. In the Houston, Texas area, the Human Traf­ficking Rescue Alliance (HTRA) has devel­oped and dis­trib­uted guide­lines for how to respond to human traf­ficking vic­tims. Third, in Phoenix, Ari­zona, the Phoenix Task Force has pro­vided training to local agen­cies to help them better iden­tify cases of human trafficking.

The data shows some common obsta­cles among multi-​​agency task forces, including defining and iden­ti­fying human traf­ficking vic­tims and a lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion among task force group mem­bers. Other issues that arose were how to align common goals when cer­tain mem­bers have other respon­si­bil­i­ties, as well as the com­plexity and length of time that is involved with human traf­ficking cases.

Based on that data, the researchers have out­lined 5 steps that, when taken, could help improve the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and response to human traf­ficking in the United States.

The data from this research pro­vides great insight into how law enforce­ment agen­cies iden­tify and respond to human traf­ficking cases, and we hope to build on that data and develop new poli­cies that can lead to the freedom of vic­tims of human traf­ficking,” added McDe­vitt, the Asso­ciate Dean of the Col­lege of Crim­inal Jus­tice at North­eastern and Director of the Insti­tute on Race and Justice.

For more infor­ma­tion about this report and Northeastern’s research on human traf­ficking, please con­tact Jenny Eriksen at (617) 373‑2802 or via email at j.​eriksen@​neu.​edu.

About North­eastern University

Founded in 1898, North­eastern Uni­ver­sity is a pri­vate research uni­ver­sity located in the heart of Boston. North­eastern is a leader in inter­dis­ci­pli­nary research, urban engage­ment, and the inte­gra­tion of class­room learning with real-​​world expe­ri­ence. The university’s dis­tinc­tive coop­er­a­tive edu­ca­tion pro­gram, where stu­dents alter­nate semes­ters of full-​​time study with semes­ters of paid work in fields rel­e­vant to their pro­fes­sional inter­ests and major, is one of the largest and most inno­v­a­tive in the world.The Uni­ver­sity offers a com­pre­hen­sive range of under­grad­uate and grad­uate pro­grams leading to degrees through the doc­torate in six under­grad­uate col­leges, eight grad­uate schools, and two part-​​time divisions.For more infor­ma­tion, please visit www​.north​eastern​.edu.