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New study examines federal human trafficking prosecutions over the last 20 years

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Posted at 7:02 PM, Oct 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-05 19:02:13-04

Local, state and national leaders joined forces for the annual Human Trafficking Summit on Tuesday.

I-Team Investigator Kylie McGivern met with the author of a groundbreaking study that looked at every federal criminal human trafficking prosecution over the last 20 years. It shows how far we've come, and what still needs to be done to protect victims.


The Human Trafficking Institute provides expert knowledge of training and research to police and prosecutors to help stop traffickers.

Co-author of the Federal Human Trafficking Report Alyssa Wheeler said she was surprised to see, despite COVID delays in the criminal justice system, the number of federal human trafficking cases filed is up.

“Florida did file 12 new cases and the national average, if you just do a real general average, was three," Wheeler said.

That number may not reflect the scope of human trafficking, but how often federal prosecutors are pursuing these cases.

“And I would say that in Florida, a positive surprise is that restitution has continued — the percentage of cases in which a judge ordered restitution has continued to rise as well, and is actually above the national average," Wheeler said.

In Florida, it was 67% of the cases in 2020. The national average is 50%.

"Restitution is one of our top priorities at HTI because it is the money that a convicted trafficker is forced to pay their victims to compensate their victims for the harm that was caused. It is essential for survivors to be able to rebuild their lives after being trafficked and escape the cycle of exploration that can be really hard to get out of," Wheeler said.

There was an increase in federal cases filed, however, the conviction rate nationwide went down.

RELATED: Human trafficking busts net many arrests, but convictions prove to be more challenging

The I-Team has reported on the challenges of securing a conviction, including the evidence needed to prove someone was forced or trapped. There is also a heavy reliance on a survivor willing to testify against the trafficking.

Wheeler said she would like to see more efforts directed to going after businesses and corporations.

"Last year, there were only two entities in the U.S. that were being prosecuted for trafficking, both of them were hotels," she said. "I would really love to see an increase in the number of corporations that are prosecuted for forced labor in particular, but trafficking in general.”