Traffick Stops

Are police procedures in the United States protecting or harming human trafficking victims?

Law enforcement is a critical element in the prosecution of human trafficking crimes, yet due to outdated state laws, many police officers are unable to fully protect those who need it most. Shared Hope International is an organization that grades every state in the U.S. on their policy surrounding human trafficking and the fight to end it. After examining these state “report cards,” it is clear that many states are still lagging behind in provisions for law enforcement personnel.

Tennessee and Texas are two states leading the way with the most advanced laws, however, other large states — like California and New York — seem to be falling behind. Shared Hope International analyzed and compared each state based on two primary categories. The first  is the requirements for law enforcement in each state related to specialized training and mandatory reporting of missing or exploited children. The second category for analysis is what law enforcement is permitted to do in cases of human trafficking to rescue victims and imprison those involved.

An Urgent Need: Mandatory Reporting & Trafficking Preparedness Training

Specialized training and mandatory reporting in cases of missing and exploited children  adds little cost to the state, yet many states do not require either. Because runaway, abused, foster, and at-risk youth are the most vulnerable populations for human trafficking in the U.S., this kind of training is absolutely necessary to prepare law enforcement personnel to intervene on behalf of survivors. Additionally, not only does it take special training to recognize a trafficking victim, who may not  know they are being trafficked themselves, it also takes specialized care to rescue these individuals and help them through the criminal justice process without doing further harm.

In the state of Tennessee, law enforcement personnel are required to receive training on human trafficking, child abuse and sexual exploitation, prostitution. Further, there are specialized funds allocated to this training. The state also has a mandatory reporting of missing children. This keeps data on missing children updated and relevant and allows the state to track “repeat runaways,” who may be at the highest risk for trafficking. In Texas, law enforcement personnel and judges are required to have specialized training. Additionally, missing and recovered children are required to be reported by law enforcement, and recovered children must be interviewed by Family and Protective Services to determine if they are a trafficking victim. These protocols put necessary systems in place to help protect victims and at-risk youth from being lost to traffickers.

California and New York, however, are two states still in need of improvement. In California, only law enforcement with field or investigative duties are required to undergo training on human trafficking. Still, there is a mandatory reporting system for missing children. In New York, no specialized training is mandatory for law enforcement and the state is not required to maintain a database on missing children.  

Equipping Law Enforcement Personnel with the Right Tools

When it comes to rescuing victims and prosecuting their traffickers, police in some states are better equipped than others. Two methods law enforcement often employ in these cases are the use of decoys and wiretaps.  In some states, police are allowed to pose as children over the phone or on the Internet to catch the criminals at the opposite end. Law enforcement personnel use this disguise to find two types of people: individuals looking to solicit sex from minors and traffickers searching for minors to exploit. After initiating contact with a trafficker or buyer, they often agree to meet at a selected location where the police will surprise and arrest them. This technique gained public exposure through shows like Dateline NBC’s  “To Catch a Predator” and has proven to be incredibly successful.

The wiretap is another tool useful in these cases because it allows law enforcement to listen to traffickers’ phone calls. This can be crucial in locating both traffickers and their victims. In the state of Tennessee, wiretapping is permitted in sex trafficking cases. Additionally, decoys and internet investigations are allowed in identifying traffickers, even when a minor is not involved. These policies, while not found in many states, are meant to help recover both minor and adult trafficking victims. In Texas, similarly, both decoys and wiretapping can be used to catch traffickers.  In California and New York, wiretapping is allowed for trafficking cases but not all sex crimes. Unfortunately, New York does not allow law enforcement to use the internet to investigate cases of potential trafficking. Further, defendants are allowed to build their defense around law enforcement’s use of decoys, which is counter-productive and can result in traffickers and buyers avoiding punishment.

A Lack of Consistency = More Lives Trafficked

Law enforcement is a critical piece in both the rescue of trafficking victims and prosecution of those involved. Still, many states have not implemented basic requirements to better serve and protect trafficking victims. Further, many states do not permit the methods often required to make a significant impact in anti-human trafficking. It is clear from all three parts of this blog series on trafficking legislation that there is a desperate need for consistency in state laws across the country. The current reality creates pockets where trafficking can continue being incredibly profitable with very little resistance. Until this changes, it will be impossible to end the human trafficking that takes place in our very own communities within the United States.

— Post researched and written by Free for Life’s spring intern, Josh Rickerman 

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California Report Card 2017.” 2017. Accessed January 25, 2018.

New York Report Card 2017.” 2017. Accessed January 25, 2018.

“Tennessee Report Card 2017.” 2017. Accessed January 25, 2018.

“Texas Report Card 2017.” 2017. Accessed January 25, 2018.
Free for Life
Free for Life Team
Free for Life is fighting human trafficking around the world in the areas of prevention, intervention and restoration. Together with our partners, we are working every day for our vision statement: freedom for all. View more posts by Free for Life.