Victims of human trafficking are not being identified, rescued and aided at an acceptable rate.
There are multiple reasons why the anti-trafficking effort to date has fallen so far short in victim identification, and it begins with the fact that human trafficking is that rare category of major crime in which the victims will not report their crime to law enforcement. Human trafficking defies traditional law enforcement methods. Victims will not be found and rescued in large numbers until a new strategy, not dependent solely or even principally on law enforcement activities, is implemented. What is needed is a broad-based social movement for the abolition of human trafficking in the United States. Lest one think that too grandiose an objective, pilot project work done by the principals of this project makes clear such a social movement, grounded in local community organizations, is feasible.
The identification rate of juvenile victims is especially inadequate.
The tools used by traffickers to keep their victims compliant – namely: psychological coercion and manipulation, fear, and physical trauma – are particularly effective when applied to juveniles, meaning that the likelihood of a juvenile victim pursing escape is remote. As juvenile victims are particularly difficult to see and particularly unlikely to provoke suspicion when seen, there is a special urgency for the creation of new strategies for the detection of juvenile victims of human trafficking.
Most victims of human trafficking in the United States are American citizens – and juveniles. This victim population is currently being ignored by anti-trafficking efforts.
The most innovative aspect of the TVPA is that it declares any minor (under the age of 18) who has been exploited for commercial sex (the provision of any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person) to be a victim of human trafficking. Whereas with adults engaged in commercial sex (or in situations of labor exploitation), it must be demonstrated that the will of the victim was overcome by means of force, fraud, or coercion in order for the case to qualify as trafficking, no such demonstration is necessary for minors, because they cannot, by virtue of their age, consent to their own commercial sexual exploitation. The practical implication of this legal status is that at least 100,000 – and likely more – American juveniles become victims of human trafficking annually. They are recruited mainly from the population of homeless, runaway, or throwaway youth.
Yet the TVPA is silent on the rescue and restoration of these so-called domestic victims. Of course, U.S. citizen victims of human trafficking do not require the immigration relief and access to federally-funded benefits which the TVPA provides to foreign victims. But as with foreign victims, the most important assistance we can provide to a domestic victim of trafficking is to facilitate a relationship with a qualified and conscientious NGO to partner with the victim through the restoration/recuperation process. The TVPA does not authorize funds for grants to assist domestic victims, which would encourage NGOs to step forward to assist this class of victims.
The bottom line is that we do more to aid foreign victims than domestic victims of human trafficking. The TVPA has been used very rarely to prosecute the exploiters of juveniles in situations of commercial sexual exploitation. There are no NGO service providers receiving federal funds for the care of domestic juvenile victims of human trafficking per se, and at the local level nowhere are the domestic juvenile victims of human trafficking recognized as the victims of crime. Rather, they are routinely treated as the perpetrators of crime (principally prostitution) and consigned to the adult or juvenile justice system, as opposed to being provided the restorative services they require and deserve as the victims of crime.