Because human trafficking is a complex issue with roots in inequality, the U.S. federal government continues to find new ways to combat it.
The National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, available to all U.S. states, is continually updated to reflect the ways traffickers change tactics. The plan focuses on four angles: prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnerships, including state partnerships.
One state, Pennsylvania, seems to be headed in a positive direction with its prevention work. Human trafficking cases in the nation’s fifth most populous state cases dropped by nearly 41% from 2021 to 2022. State officials point to the passage of Act 105 in 2014, a law that imposes criminal liability on those who benefit financially from trafficking, including strip clubs, massage parlors, motels and hotels. The Act also imposes criminal liability on those who solicit or obtain sex from trafficking victims. This Act aligns with the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.
The positive news out of Pennsylvania comes as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month, a call to action for all Americans to recognize their role in combating trafficking, is acknowledged during the month of January. The month was designated in 2010.
Across the nation, on Jan. 11, 2024, all states joined in #WearBlueDay. The rest of the month features a wide array of law enforcement, justice system, child protection services, nonprofit agency and state government activities.
States’ Approach to Human Trafficking
While Pennsylvania has made progress in the fight against human trafficking, the top three states in population – California, Texas, and Florida –also currently rank one, two, and three in reported cases of human trafficking, and each takes a different tack in prevention, protection, and enforcement.
In January 2023, the Los Angeles Police Department teamed with law enforcement agencies across California and arrested 368 traffickers and customers in a week-long operation, rescuing 131 victims in the process. The LAPD established the operation, called Reclaim and Rebuild, in January 2016. That first year, the arrest tally was 198, with eighteen victims rescued.
In Texas, the state added a #TXBlueSandProject to the #WearBlueDay event, asking residents to spread blue sand on sidewalks and post social media videos of the activity. The Texas attorney general's office launched the Human Trafficking and Transnational / Organized Crime Section in 2016; the HTTOCS has trained over 30,000 people to recognize and report trafficking.
Florida will host its sixteenth annual Human Trafficking Awareness Days conference, founded two years before Human Trafficking Awareness Month, on Jan. 23, 2024, in Orlando. The event, held in partnership with Florida's attorney general's office, brought together over 11,000 participants in 2021. Attorney general Ashley Moody is a strong partner in trafficking prevention work; she currently serves as the chair of Florida's Statewide Council on Human Trafficking.
Reporting of Human Trafficking on the Rise
Despite tireless effort by states, 2020 national trafficking statistics are significantly higher than they were in 2011. The number of people referred to U.S. attorneys in 2020 was 2,198, up 62% from the 1,360 referrals in 2011. The number of people prosecuted for human trafficking nationwide increased to 1,343 in 2020, from 729 in 2011, an 84 percent jump.
As January unites America's trafficking prevention efforts, the hope is that unity brings positive change. The U.S. Department of Justice initiated 162 federal human trafficking prosecutions in 2022, a significant decrease from the 228 prosecutions in 2021.
The DOJ's latest Trafficking in Persons report reminds agencies that the federal government is just one element in the fight.
While state laws form the basis of most criminal actions in the United States, all 50 states must lead the effort to eliminate human trafficking – not just in January but all year long.