April 12, 2021 00:31

Lessons from the US: Strategic approach to combatting human trafficking

Preventing human trafficking and bringing perpetrators to justice is challenging law enforcement agencies across the world. In the UK and across Europe, specialist police investigators combatting modern day slavery are observing an increasing demand in their workloads, as the social and economic conditions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic fuel a surge in trafficking.

The impact of US Government measures to restrict the spread of COVID-19 has created a suite of unintended consequences, resulting in conditions ripe for people to fall victim to trafficking.

In the United States, a dramatic rise in the number of people seeking emergency shelter to escape human trafficking occurred within weeks of the enforced lockdown restrictions earlier this year. The impact of US Government measures to restrict the spread of COVID-19 has created a suite of unintended consequences, resulting in conditions ripe for people to fall victim to trafficking.

According to the non-profit Walk Free organisation, an estimated 400,000 people are believed to be trapped in modern slavery in the US, from sex work to forced labour, and the scale of the misery caused by the transnational organised crime of human trafficking has prompted a fresh approach across homeland security structures.

Radical reform

Earlier this month, the Department for Homeland Security (DHS) opened a new Centre for Countering Human Trafficking, the US Government’s first integrated law enforcement operations centre directly supporting federal criminal investigations, victim assistance efforts, intelligence analysis, and outreach and training activities related to human trafficking and forced labour.

The centre, which has been operational since early September, is based in Washington and is led by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a global leader of criminal investigations into human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

The forms of exploitation, sex trafficking, forced labour, and domestic servitude that constitute human trafficking are antithetical in every way to the principles of human dignity that Americans hold dear.”

Chad Wolf, Acting Secretary, DHS

The centre will be staffed with law enforcement officials from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and will build upon the human trafficking ‘victims first’ approach, which balances victim identification, rescue and support with prevention, investigation, and prosecution of traffickers.

Announcing the opening of the new centre, DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf stated: “Human trafficking is modern day slavery. There is no other way to say it. The words are strong because the actions are evil. The forms of exploitation, sex trafficking, forced labour, and domestic servitude that constitute human trafficking are antithetical in every way to the principles of human dignity that Americans hold dear.”

The creation of the new centre forms part of wider strategic reforms and focus upon countering human trafficking through the melding and amplification of US law enforcement assets. During July, The Pittsburgh United States Attorney for Western District of Pennsylvania, ICE, HSI, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Pittsburgh, joined forces to create a new anti-human trafficking coalition under Operation TEN (Trafficking Ends Now), comprised of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies as well as non-governmental organisations.

Operation TEN serves as an umbrella coalition for the 25 counties in the Western District of Pennsylvania, and is a coordinated effort aimed at ending human trafficking through education and improving cooperation between law enforcement agencies at all levels. It will enhance the ability of support services to empower victims of human trafficking to become thriving survivors.

Operational impact

The amplification and melding of US law enforcement agencies, combined with third sector organisations and local authorities, marks a milestone in the effort to combat human trafficking. The scale of the investment to bring covert intelligence disciplines together with overt investigative assets and victim support services, ensures a holistic approach designed to deliver maximum operational impact, serving to disrupt, detect and deter all forms of modern day slavery.

The transformation of US law enforcement architecture to tackle human trafficking has been driven by the DHS Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking, the Importation of Goods Produced with Forced Labour, and Child Sexual Exploitation, which came into force during January.

The new apparatus to combat human trafficking has been driven by the discovery of an increasing number of organised crime groups who have developed and expanded modern day slavery portfolios within their criminal enterprise.

The vision of the new strategy is to strive to end all forms of human trafficking and child sexual exploitation, delivered through the ‘4 Ps’ – prevention, protection, prosecution and partnerships.

The clarity of this strategic mission has served to galvanise US law enforcement agencies, articulating a long-term approach for combating modern day slavery which serves as a framework to prioritise resources and monitor progress.

The new apparatus to combat human trafficking has been driven by the discovery of an increasing number of organised crime groups who have developed and expanded modern day slavery portfolios within their criminal enterprise.

Success factors

The increasing demands on law enforcement from human traffickers necessitates the new approach, evidenced by government figures released for the 2019 fiscal year in which ICE initiated 1,024 human trafficking and forced labour-related cases, leading to 2,197 criminal arrests. These effective actions resulted in 700 convictions and the rescue of more than 400 victims.

Law enforcement agencies in the US continue to report success in the fight against human traffickers. Earlier this month, more than 100 human-trafficking victims – many of them missing children – were rescued in a sweeping operation involving state and federal law enforcement agencies in Ohio. Operation Autumn Hope focused upon sex trafficking, leading to 179 arrests, including 22 people who were charged for seeking sex with a minor.

The execution of major police operations and the detection of large-scale trafficking in the US continues to occur with alarming regularity. But the fresh approach and realignment of law enforcement assets, being underpinned by a clear strategic mission with appropriate resources, provides local, state and federal authorities with every chance of prosecuting perpetrators and protecting human trafficking victims.

Photo by Tim Tebow Foundation on Unsplash

The post Lessons from the US: Strategic approach to combatting human trafficking appeared first on Policing Insight.

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