Washington Post: Hawley introduces bill to document scope of human trafficking in America

Originally Published at The Washington Post

By Tom Jackman

As the federal government ramped up its efforts to fight human trafficking in the early 2000s, a key law passed by Congress in 2005 mandated that the Justice Department carry out “comprehensive research and statistical review and analysis of severe forms of trafficking in persons” every two years, to determine the depth of the problem in the United States.

But only one study was ever done, in 2009, and none since. Experts say no hard numbers exist on the number of victims, or traffickers. So on Thursday, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced a bill basically reiterating the wording of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005, while adding an accounting of trafficking victims. He said he would press Congress to appropriate the money to make the survey happen. Experts in human trafficking said the information is urgently needed to understand the breadth of the problem, to learn how traffickers operate and how to stop them.

“I think people are going to be shocked to learn we haven’t done a comprehensive national study,” Hawley said. “It’s important that we know the scope of the problem, and it’s more than a problem, it’s an epidemic. The first step is getting to the scope of the problem.”

“You don’t need extreme precision,” said Michael Shively, senior adviser to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and a former contractor for the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the Justice Department. “But if you’re talking about thousands of victims, or hundreds of thousands, or a million, that matters. How many victims? How many buyers?”

And, Shively added, “This is about more than just a number. There are nuances to it. The regional differences of the trafficking, the economic backgrounds of those being trafficked.” Knowing where the problems are most acute can help focus resources on those areas, Shively said.

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