While fed­eral pros­e­cu­tions of human traf­ficking cases have risen sub­stan­tially in the past decade, state and local pros­e­cu­tions con­tinue to lag, and North­eastern researchers want to find out why.

Working in part­ner­ship with the Urban Insti­tute, prin­cipal inves­ti­ga­tors Amy Far­rell and Jack McDe­vitt of North­eastern University’s School of Crim­i­nology and Crim­inal Jus­tice will uti­lize a grant from the National Insti­tute of Jus­tice — the research branch of the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice — to study the chal­lenges faced by offi­cials inves­ti­gating and pros­e­cuting human traf­ficking cases.

We are looking to iden­tify the dif­fi­cul­ties law enforce­ment and pros­e­cu­tors face when dealing with cases of human traf­ficking,” said Far­rell, an assis­tant pro­fessor of crim­inal jus­tice. Despite the fact that 42 states have enacted anti-​​trafficking laws, she added, “the number of cases iden­ti­fied each year is smaller than esti­mates of the problem would pre­dict and few of these cases are brought for­ward to crim­inal prosecution.”

Through a series of sys­tem­atic case reviews and in-​​depth qual­i­ta­tive studies of the expe­ri­ences of police, pros­e­cu­tors, judges, other court offi­cials and ser­vice providers, this study will pro­vide a glimpse into the chal­lenges faced by crim­inal jus­tice offi­cials from a number coun­ties across the United States.

To date, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice has awarded more than $1.5 mil­lion to Northeastern’s Insti­tute on Race and Jus­tice to sup­port research on law enforce­ment iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and response to human traf­ficking prob­lems in local communities.

McDe­vitt noted that human traf­ficking is a rel­a­tively new crime for the crim­inal jus­tice system and was first rec­og­nized by the United States and the United Nations in 2000. There are two types of human traf­ficking: sex traf­ficking and labor traf­ficking. The majority of cases brought to pros­e­cu­tion involve the former.

We plan to for­mu­late best prac­tices in iden­ti­fying, inves­ti­gating, and pros­e­cuting cases of human traf­ficking,” said McDe­vitt, asso­ciate dean for grad­uate studies and research. “Many pros­e­cu­tors are unaware that their state even has these laws.

While training the police is crit­ical, it is also impor­tant to train pros­e­cu­tors and court offi­cials as well. If we only train police, they will get better at iden­ti­fying these crimes and making arrests, but will con­tinue to run into bar­riers when they try to bring cases for­ward to prosecution.”

According to Far­rell, less than 20 per­cent of police agen­cies in the U.S. have had any training to know what traf­ficking is, only 9 per­cent have pro­to­cols or poli­cies in place if a case is iden­ti­fied, and less than 5 per­cent have inves­ti­ga­tors spe­cial­izing in trafficking.