Federal Sex Trafficking Prosecutions Plummet Under Trump Administration: Analysis

Federal prosecutions of sex trafficking under the same law that is currently being used to prosecute Jeffrey Epstein have decreased each year under the Trump administration, according to a new analysis from Syracuse University's Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) system.

If the current pace of sex trafficking prosecutions remains, the number of these cases the Justice Department decides to prosecute will have fallen nearly 27 percent year over year by the end of September. This represents a steep reversal of Obama-era trends that saw sex trafficking prosecutions rise nearly every year and more than double over the eight-year period from 2009 through 2016.

Epstein is the multimillionaire financier who pleaded guilty to minor sex offenses in Florida over a decade ago, the result of a generous plea deal that kept him from facing more serious federal sex trafficking charges. After recent public uproar over the terms of his plea deal, federal prosecutors in New York decided to pursue sex trafficking charges against Epstein for similar conduct he is alleged to have engaged in at his mansion on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

Compared with just five years ago, prosecutions under the same sex trafficking statute used against Epstein will have fallen 32 percent by the end of fiscal year 2019.

The declining trend for this sort of prosecution stands in contrast with the way the Trump administration has pursued other crimes, according to TRAC. The report notes that "overall, federal prosecutions for all crimes are up significantly since 2016," while these sex trafficking prosecutions have fallen.

The Obama Justice Department pursued these cases with increasing frequency, more than doubling the amount of prosecutions over eight years. As soon as the Trump administration was inaugurated, the number of these prosecutions immediately stagnated before declining by around 50 cases each year.

TRAC found that during the last year of the Obama administration, the Justice Department declined to prosecute about half—51 percent—of sex trafficking cases under this law for which it received referrals. Since the department turned to the control of the Trump administration, it has been accepting fewer and fewer referrals for prosecution, rejecting 54 percent of referrals in fiscal year 2017 and 58 percent in fiscal year 2018. The DOJ has rejected 61 percent of referrals so far this fiscal year, according to the data.

The Southern Districts of New York and Texas are the two federal court jurisdictions that prosecute the greatest amount of sex trafficking crimes under this law; New York's Southern District is handling the case against Epstein.

The anti-trafficking organization Polaris estimates that upwards of hundreds of thousands of victims are trafficked each year in the United States. According to data collected from Polaris in connection with its sex-trafficking hotline, the average age of sex trafficking victims is 19, and victims are overwhelmingly female. Hispanic people constitute the greatest number of sex-trafficking victims in the United States, according to this data. The Polaris data indicates that family and friends are the most often used point of access to help for potential victims.

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