The passage of new laws criminalizing the trafficking of persons for labor and sexual services has raised public awareness about the problem of trafficking. In response, we expect local law enforcement to learn about the problem, identify trafficking victims and make arrests. The numbers of victims identified by the police, however, has paled in comparison to official estimates, leading some to question the existence of a trafficking problem. Missing from this debate is information about how frequently police encounter situations involving human trafficking and how well prepared officers are to deal with these cases. Analyzing survey responses from a national sample of over 3,000 police agencies in the U.S., this study find that 10 percent of agencies have identified human trafficking cases since 2000. While larger agencies are more likely to identify cases of trafficking, agency leader perception about the prevalence of the problem in the local community and the adoption of concrete steps to prepare officers to identify and respond to the problem are the most important factors to increase human trafficking identification by the police. This study provides much needed information about why U.S. officials have identified so few human trafficking victims. By understanding how often and under what conditions police find, investigate and prosecute cases of human trafficking, we will be in a better position to identify and overcome barriers to police responses to trafficking and understand the limitations of official statistics about human trafficking. Data from national survey also provides a baseline measure of police identification of human trafficking against which we can gauge the progress of future anti-trafficking efforts.
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