Contrary to the belief among certain conspiracy theorists that President Donald Trump is battling a massive ring of child sex traffickers, the administration is prosecuting significantly fewer child sex traffickers than the previous administration.
After climbing steadily under President Barack Obama, the number of federal prosecutions against child sex traffickers has dropped, according to a new report from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a data research organization at Syracuse University. The prosecutions peaked at 277 in fiscal year 2016 and fell to 178 in 2019 and 180 in 2020, according to the TRAC report.
The change is striking in light of what the New York Times describes as a viral, pro-Trump conspiracy theory that “the world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who are plotting against Mr. Trump while operating a global child sex-trafficking ring.” The theory holds that Trump was recruited by military generals to run for president to break up this conspiracy.
Yet, according to TRAC, the current Justice Department is prosecuting a smaller portion of child sex trafficking case referrals it receives. The 2016 prosecutions under Obama represented 49% of cases referred to federal prosecutors, while the government prosecuted 37% and 47% of cases referred in 2019 and 2020.
Justice Department cites lack of evidence, limited resources
Overall, the Bush Justice Department prosecuted 46% of child sex trafficking case referrals and the Obama Justice Department prosecuted 49%. Under Trump, the Justice Department has prosecuted 43% of referrals.
About 66% of the time, referrals were not prosecuted because the Justice Department concluded the evidence was insufficient. Other cases were declined because of the need to prioritize federal resources and interests, according to the TRAC report.
The report reflects similar findings by the U.S. State Department, which wrote about the United States in its 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report: “The government increased the number of investigations, but the number of prosecutions decreased for the second year in a row, and the number of convictions decreased.”
The State Department Report looks at trafficking of adults and children and both sexual and labor trafficking. According to the Human Trafficking Institute, 52.8% of sex trafficking cases active in 2019 for which public sources identified at least one coercive means used against the victim involved only child victims.
Federal prosecutions represent a miniscule portion of human trafficking incidents, according to James Gates, an expert in human trafficking and a sociology professor at Point Loma Nazarene University’s Center for Justice and Reconciliation.
Prosecutions represent small portion of trafficking
The fact that federal prosecutions have fallen does not mean child sex trafficking has been reduced, Gates said. According to his research, for example, law enforcement identifies no more than 200 trafficking victims in the San Diego area in a given year. But Gates estimates there are between 3,000 and 5,000 trafficking victims in the area at a time.
So why are the prosecutions down?
“I’m stumped,” Gates said. “I know the public awareness and activity is higher. The collaborations are higher in multiple cities. The resources put into investigations are going up. I can only think it’s a distraction of Justice to focus on other things. … In rhetoric, it’s their priority, but not in practice, which tends to be a hallmark of this administration.”
According to the State Department report, the administration’s immigration policies are having a negative impact on bringing human traffickers to justice:
“Although the government meets the minimum standards, it prosecuted fewer cases and secured convictions against fewer traffickers, issued fewer victims trafficking-specific immigration benefits, and did not adequately screen vulnerable populations for human trafficking indicators. Anti-trafficking advocates reported a continued lack of sustained effort to address labor trafficking, increased obstacles for foreign nationals to secure victim protections, and a systemic inability to prevent traffickers from using employment-based and other nonimmigrant visa programs.”
The report says the government “took actions to address alleged complicity in human trafficking by government employees. Two active duty military officers were charged with sex trafficking. A U.S. naval officer was found guilty of sex trafficking. A municipal law enforcement officer was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for sex trafficking involving two children.”
Contact Elaine Silvestrini at Elaine@legalexaminer.com. Follow her on Twitter at @WriterElaineS.