State Department Report Belies Claims of Trafficking Epidemic

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, announcing the release of the 2019 Trafficking in Persons report. To the right, Ambassador for Trafficking In Persons John Richmond and Ivanka Trump. (via U.S. State Department via Flickr)
The State Department's 2019 report on human trafficking shows the crime to be far less common in the U.S. than the rescue industry would have people believe.

Despite an astronomical increase in federal funding to state and local law enforcement agencies to combat human trafficking, a report released on June 20 by the U.S. State Department shows a relatively low number of cases investigated for the crime, contradicting alarmist claims that there is an epidemic of labor and sex trafficking occurring in the United States.

As first noted in a Twitter thread by Reason magazine associate editor Elizabeth Nolan Brown, the State Department’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), an annual assessment of the efforts of 187 countries to combat human trafficking, states that although the U.S. government “meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” it “opened, charged, and prosecuted fewer cases” of the crime in Fiscal Year 2018 than in FY 2017.

Indeed, the number of investigations and prosecutions of human trafficking — an umbrella term that includes both forced labor and commercial sex involving minors or adults through force, fraud or coercion — is greatly outpaced by more common violent crimes, such as murder, rape and aggravated assault.

The report reads:

In FY 2018, DHS opened 849 investigations related to human trafficking compared to 833 in FY 2017. DOJ formally opened 657 human trafficking investigations, a significant decrease from 783 in FY 2017. (The FY 2017 number from DOJ [783] represents a correction to the number cited last year [782].) DOS reported opening 148 human trafficking-related cases worldwide during FY 2018, a decrease from 169 in FY 2017. The Department of Defense (DoD) reported investigating two human trafficking cases involving U.S. military personnel compared to one in FY 2017.

DOJ initiated a total of 230 federal human trafficking prosecutions in FY 2018, a significant decrease from 282 in FY 2017, and charged 386 defendants, a significant decrease from 553 in FY 2017. Of these prosecutions, 213 involved predominantly sex trafficking and 17 involved predominantly labor trafficking, compared to 266 and 16 in FY 2017, respectively. At least one of these cases involved both.

During FY 2018, DOJ secured convictions against 526 traffickers, an increase from 499 convictions in FY 2017. Of these, 501 involved predominantly sex trafficking and 25 involved predominantly labor trafficking, compared to 471 and 28 in FY 2017, respectively.

That’s a total of 1,656 federal investigations, 386 defendants charged and 499 convictions for the 2018 fiscal year. The report also notes that in 2017,  FBI crime statistics from 39 states (the number participating in the feds’ statistics-reporting program) show “545 human trafficking offenses resulting in arrest or solved for crime reporting purposes,” a decrease from 654 reported in FY 2016.

Thankfully, human trafficking lags far behind more quotidian crimes. Per the FBI’s 2017 stats for the states, there were 17,284 homicides nationwide, 135,755 rapes, and 810,825 aggravated assaults.

Both aggravated assault and rape are up over the previous year, 1 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively. And yet, there is no army of politicians, advocates and law enforcement personnel dedicated to pushing the idea that the U.S. is currently undergoing an epidemic of rape.

Human trafficking, however, does have such an army, known by its critics as the “rescue industry,” which includes scores of non-profits that are dedicated to the issue and receive substantial funding from the federal government.

For instance, the TIP report states that for FY 2018 the Justice Department “provided $31.2 million for 45 victim service providers offering comprehensive and specialized services across the United States.” This is up from the DOJ giving $16.2 million in FY 2017.

And the federal government directly funds anti-trafficking task forces. In FY 2018, according to the report, the DOJ provided $23.1 million to “17 state and local law enforcement agencies and 17 victim service providers” that made up 17 such task forces across the country.  In FY 2017, the DOJ gave $2.8 million to two anti-trafficking task forces.  That’s an increase from FY 2017 to FY 2018 of 725 percent.

Both aggravated assault and rape are up over the previous year … And yet, there is no army of politicians, advocates and law enforcement personnel dedicated to pushing the idea that the U.S. is currently undergoing an epidemic of rape.

The DOJ demands ideological rigidity from those seeking to benefit from this trafficking bonanza. One DOJ guideline for grant applicants found online emphatically states that the federal government “is opposed to prostitution and related activities, which are inherently harmful and dehumanizing and contribute to the phenomenon of trafficking in persons.” As a result, non-governmental organizations are forbidden from using DOJ funds “to lobby for, promote, or advocate the legalization or regulation of prostitution as a legitimate form of work.”

Given the feds’ largesse when it comes to human trafficking and the relative paucity of results, the report drew a sharp critique from sex workers, sex worker rights advocates and reporters.

Dr. Lois Lee, founder of Children of the Night, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that helps youths escape the sex trade, commented on the TIP report via her Facebook page.

“These numbers hardly make sex trafficking an epidemic,” Lee wrote, “and it certainly does not justify the amount of money spent.”

Sex worker, author and documentary-maker Maggie McNeill of the Honest Courtesan blog observed on Twitter that the 545 state arrests for trafficking represent “a tiny fraction of the number of rapes (which cops do little about).”

And Nolan Brown pointed out the ironies of the report itself, which acknowledged that authorities were continuing to arrest victims of sex trafficking.

She quoted one part of the report that said, “Advocates continued to report trafficking victims were arrested at the state and local levels for the unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit.”

One can only wonder how long it will take some enterprising Congressman to hold a hearing into the fact that the DOJ and other government entities continue to spend so much money fighting an elusive enemy while scoring so little bang for the taxpayers’ buck.

And ICYMI, read:

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About Stephen Lemons

Stephen Lemons is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than 20 years of experience covering everything from government corruption to white-supremacist gangs. In addition to Front Page Confidential, his work has appeared in Phoenix New Times, the Los Angeles Times,, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report magazine.

One comment

  1. Finally the truth be told! These are DOJ numbers found in every story below the misleading headlines. The Child Sex Trafficking Epidemic is over and it has been since 2001.

    In desperation to keep DOJ funded they require any social service agency receiving federal funding to report a trafficking victim to the Human Trafficking Hotline – a DOJ front.

    How about a team of rescuers to rescue children and young people on the street addicted to opioids and living among the homeless although they have parents who would love to have them home?

    How about a team of volunteer investigators to follow lobbyists from pharmaceutical companies bribing Congresspeople? Drug addicts are forced to have sex for drugs. Many high schoolers boys and girls are held in trap houses for drugs.

    So much work to be done! Yes a little more dangerous and not as much fun!

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