Vernuccio’s View: States Laws Passed in Fight Against Human Trafficking

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has released its 2016 report on human trafficking, also known as slavery.  Since 2003, every state has enacted laws establishing criminal penalties for traffickers seeking to profit from forced labor or sexual servitude.


The National Human Trafficking Hotline notes that “Common potential sex trafficking venues include: Hostess/Strip Club-Based; Residential Brothels; Street-Based; Online Advertisements; and Commercial-Fronted Brothels. Common potential labor trafficking venues include: Domestic Work; Traveling Sales Crews; Restaurants/ Food Service; Agriculture; Commercial-Fronted Brothels; and Health and Beauty Services.”

According to NCSL, “Most commonly, trafficking activities are defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons for the purpose of exploitation…The majority of laws include the elements force, fraud and coercion, but their definition can vary greatly from state to state. For example, in some states, their definition focuses primarily on the use of physical force. Other states more broadly include psychological control, financial threats, legal harassment and drug addiction.”

In its 2016 Report on Human Trafficking, the U.S. State Department noted:

“In FY 2015, DHS [Dept. of Homeland Security] reported opening 1,034 investigations possibly involving human trafficking, an increase from 987 in FY 2014. DOJ [Dept. of Justice] formally opened 802 human trafficking investigations, a decrease from 835 in FY 2014, and DOJ’s ECM taskforces separately initiated 1,011 investigations. DOS [Department of State] reported opening 175 human trafficking-related cases worldwide during FY 2015, an increase from 154 in FY 2014. The Department of Defense (DoD) reported investigating at least 10 human trafficking-related cases involving U.S. military personnel, compared to 14 in FY 2014. DOJ initiated a total of 257 federal human trafficking prosecutions in FY 2015, charging 377 defendants. Of these prosecutions, 248 involved predominantly sex trafficking and nine involved predominantly labor trafficking, although some involved both. These figures represent an increase from FY 2014, during which DOJ brought 208 prosecutions charging 335 defendants. During FY 2015, DOJ secured convictions against 297 traffickers, compared with 184 convictions obtained in FY 2014. Of these, 291 involved predominantly sex trafficking and six involved predominantly labor trafficking, although several involved both. These prosecutions and convictions include cases brought under trafficking-specific criminal statutes and related non-trafficking criminal statutes, but do not include child sex trafficking cases brought under non-trafficking statutes.

The Global Slavery Index  2016 statistics estimate “that 45.8 million people are in some form of modern slavery in 167 countries. The countries with the highest estimated prevalence of modern slavery by the proportion of their population are North Korea, Uzbekistan, Cambodia, India, and Qatar. In North Korea, there is pervasive evidence that government-sanctioned forced labour occurs in an extensive system of prison labour camps while North Korean women are subjected to forced marriage and commercial sexual exploitation in China and other neighbouring states. In Uzbekistan, the government continues to subject its citizens to forced labour in the annual cotton harvest.

“Those countries with the highest absolute numbers of people in modern slavery are India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan. Several of these countries provide the low-cost labour that produces consumer goods for markets in Western Europe, Japan, North America and Australia. The countries with the lowest estimated prevalence of modern slavery by the proportion of their population are Luxembourg, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden and Belgium, the United States and Canada, and Australia and New Zealand. These countries generally have more economic wealth, score higher on government response, have low levels of conflict, and are politically stable with a willingness to combat modern slavery.”

ISIS has been particularly active in the practice of slavery.  According to a Brookings study, “The Islamic State not only celebrates the revival of slavery as a major step in the return of Islamic law, which the group wants to impose in its totality. The group also hails the renewal of slavery as ‘one of the signs of the Hour’ or Day of Judgment…The Islamic State now proudly celebrates the return of the practice to public view and distributes the captured Yazidi women as sex slaves to its members.”

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government

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