In an operation in Georgia over the past two weeks, the U.S. Marshals Service recovered 39 missing children, several of whom were victims of child sex trafficking. As the liberal movement to defund police departments rages on the national stage, we can’t forget the dire repercussions these cuts would have for trafficking victims.
County, city, state, and federal law enforcement are all vital in the fight against human trafficking. And yet, a recent study by the Police Executive Research Forum found that nearly half of the 258 local police departments surveyed have seen their funding slashed — cuts which will primarily target officer training. Because trafficking victims are notoriously hard to spot, trafficking-specific training is one of the most important ways officers learn to identify and aid vulnerable victims.
Since the beginning of his presidency, President Trump has made the fight for awareness an escalating priority, including denoting a special adviser to the issue in early 2020. But with a recent rise in coronavirus-related trafficking cases, his efforts and his support of law enforcement funding are crucial. According to the anti-trafficking organization Polaris, crisis trafficking cases have risen by more than 40% since lockdown orders began.
The isolation and economic hardship caused by the pandemic can exacerbate situations of abuse, contribute to mental health decline, and make escape increasingly difficult. The heightened demand for online content may also have led to an increase in sexual exploitation. Increased screen time for minors has increased the likelihood of “cyber-grooming” — the online targeting of vulnerable children by sex traffickers.
Additionally, as the president pushes to reopen schools, we can’t forget that the teachers, coaches, and other mentors children encounter during their school day are often the first ones to spot signs of sex trafficking.
In early August, Trump announced more than $35 million in grants to organizations providing safe housing for victims of human trafficking. The grants, distributed among 73 on-the-ground anti-trafficking nonprofit organizations in 33 states, will get trafficking victims the resource they most need during the age of stay-at-home orders: safe lodging away from their predators.
Since taking office, Trump has also signed nine pieces of bipartisan anti-trafficking legislation, including $430 million dollars through the 2018 Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act. The four bills included in that 2018 version of the TVPRA also included tougher penalties on human trafficking. For one example, penalties for sex trafficking of children were increased by a possible five years in prison.
In 2019 alone, the Department of Homeland Security made nearly 2,200 arrests for human trafficking. While federal convictions for human trafficking never exceeded 440 per year under the Obama administration, the lowest number of yearly federal convictions for human trafficking since Trump took office is 475. The highest yearly number of federal convictions, 526, came in 2018, Trump’s second full year in office.
As the debate over police funding continues to intensify, we cannot overlook how profoundly it will affect the fight against human trafficking. A vote for Trump is a vote for police funding, resources to aid the victims of human trafficking, and greater penalties for traffickers.
Timothy Head is the executive director of the Faith & Freedom Coalition.