In 2018, the Polaris Project hotline worked with
were charged in human trafficking cases by the DOJ.
-Polaris and Human Trafficking Institute, 2018
Runaways and prostitution are misdemeanors but human trafficking is a fellony. Victims are often coerced into saying they are doing it on their own but often these things are indicative of trafficking or abuse at home. Victims can show up under these “status offenses” but law enforcement officers don’t know to recognize the connect between prostitution and trafficking - at-risk data of runaways and prostitution and homelessness
In South Carolina in 2019, 678 victims were recorded but only 14 defendants were charged.
-SC Attorney General Report
The Law Enforcement Subcommittee works to equip law enforcement officials to recognize the signs of human trafficking and foster collaborative, multi-agency investigations.
Gap between Victimization and Prosecutions
As illustrated above, there is a huge gap in the number of human trafficking victims identified and the number of defendants charged. Providing law enforcement officers with the knowledge necessary to recognize victims will work to close this gap, bringing trafficking into the light and bringing justice to those affected.
Victims Rarely Self-Identify
Victims of human trafficking often end up in the legal system on charges for prostitution, as runaways, or for other seemingly unrelated offenses. Due to coercion by perpetrators and/or trauma, victims rarely feel safe disclosing that they are part of a larger trafficking scheme or that their actions are unwillfull. Law enforcement must be trained to recognize the signs of HT so that the true perpetrators can be held accountable. Emphasizing trauma informed investigation could prove key in facilitating cooperative conversations between LE and victims.
Due to the flexible nature of the crime, traffickers are constantly changing jurisdictions to take advantage of the challenges that come with multi-jurisdictional law enforcement information-sharing. Further, many human trafficking cases begin with a misdemeanor arrest or status offense - a local crime - but once human trafficking is identified, State and Federal agencies are almost always involved.
Service Provider Cooperation
As was stated by one US Attorney, “we don’t bring these cases to court unless we have a cooperative victim.” Victim cooperation is crucial to successful prosecutions. Non-profit relationships with victims often prove central to helping victims feel safe, stable, and secure enough to cooperate and testify.