Policing Human Trafficking

Cultural Blinders and Organizational Barriers
  • Citation: Farrell, Amy, and Rebecca Pfeffer. “Policing Human Trafficking: Cultural Blinders and Organizational Barriers.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 653, no. 1 (2014): 46–64.
    • Topics:
    • Human Rights
    • Keywords:
    • United States
    • sex trafficking
    • labor trafficking
    • policing
    • police investigations
    • forced labor
    • slavery
    • modern slavery
    • law enforcement

Since 2000, the federal government and all fifty states have passed laws that criminalize the trafficking of persons for labor and commercial sex. To date, relatively few human trafficking cases have been identified, investigated, and prosecuted by local criminal justice authorities. Using data from case records and qualitative interviews with police, prosecutors, and victim service providers in twelve counties, we discuss the challenges local police face in identifying cases of human trafficking. We find that the culture of local police agencies and the perceptions of police officials about human trafficking do not support the identification of a broad range of human trafficking cases. Since local definitions of human trafficking are still evolving, police focus on sex trafficking of minors, which they perceive to be the most serious problem facing their communities. Reluctance to differentiate between vice and sex trafficking minimizes the problem of human trafficking and makes labor trafficking seem largely nonexistent.