Human and sex trafficking prosecutions have plummeted under the Trump administration

While the Trump administration has repeatedly said that human and sex trafficking is one of the main reasons to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, a new report from Axios shows that efforts to stem the tide of the crimes have decreased since President Donald Trump took office:

There are thousands of trafficking victims in the U.S. — including children trafficked into prostitution as well as agricultural and domestic workers who are paid little or nothing. But the Trump administration has cut back on prosecutions of these crimes and assistance to victims.

The number of people being trafficked in on the increase according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which identified 15,000 people who were trafficked in 2018. That’s the highest level since 2012.

And yet, the numbers for prosecutions has fallen:

  • The number of defendants charged with human trafficking by federal attorneys fell to 386 last year, from 553 in 2017, according to the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

In 2019, U.S. attorneys have only prosecuted 39 percent of the cases referred to them with child sex trafficking as the main charge. That’s down significantly from the last year of the Obama administration, when 48 percent of the cases were prosecuted by the government.

Investigations are also down, Axios notes:

In 2018, the Justice Department opened just 657 trafficking investigations — down from a spike of 1,800 in FY 2016, per the TIP reports.

The number of prosecutions isn’t the only reason for the recent numbers. Martina Vandenberg, president and founder of the Human Trafficking Legal Center, remarked:

“The criminal justice system harms victims by saddling them with criminal convictions for crimes they were forced to commit by their traffickers.”

The Trump administration’s tone when it comes to immigration is also responsible for the plunge in trafficking prosecutions, experts confide. Susan French, a former federal prosecutor for human trafficking cases, commented:

“When you have a tone coming out of the White House which is strongly anti-immigrant… it has a chilling effect on people coming forward.”

There is a bit of good news in the numbers regarding the White House and human trafficking, however: Funding for some programs dealing with human trafficking have risen:

Federal aid to state and local law enforcement and victims’ organizations plummeted in Trump’s first year in office, from nearly $16 million to just less than $3 million. But it rebounded last year to $23.1 million — the highest funding level since at least 2011.

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