Sex Trafficking Arrests Up, But Forced Labor Remains Hidden

2016 was a record year for federal human trafficking arrests.
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In a record year for trafficking arrests, federal officials say the larger problem of forced labor is harder to address than sex trafficking and often overlooked.

2016 was a record year for federal human trafficking arrests, according to new numbers from the Department of Homeland Security. But only a small proportion of those investigations tackled what researchers say make up the bulk of trafficking cases: forced labor.

Out of nearly 2,000 trafficking arrests nationwide, just over a hundred were in the Atlanta area, according to Bryan Cox, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson.

“The majority of the cases we handle fall on the sex trafficking side,” Cox said.

That’s despite the fact that according to the International Labor Organization, sex trafficking accounts for a minority of the estimated cases of trafficking.

“What we’re seeing across the world is that labor trafficking accounts for 70 percent of all the trafficking worldwide. Sex trafficking on the other hand, accounts for roughly 22 percent,” said Alpa Amin, an attorney with the Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network, speaking at a training session Monday for Georgia law enforcement officers on how to identify trafficking cases.

Amin added that reliable data related to human trafficking is scarce.

Assistant United States Attorney Richard Moultrie said he believes the problem of forced labor is harder to identify and rarely gets the political attention it deserves.

“Labor trafficking even more than sex trafficking occurs in secret because very often what’s happening is you have nannies or housekeepers that are working in people’s homes,” Moultrie said.

He said many of the tips his office receives on labor trafficking cases are from community members, rather than from police officers or vice squads.  Moultrie estimates only one in five of the trafficking cases he prosecutes in Georgia involves forced labor.

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