Cross-posted at Ms. and Caroline Heldman’s Blog.

I suspect that U.S. citizens and policy-makers have a hard time imagining that modern-day sex slavery is prevalent in our country, and an even harder time understanding that the vast majority of trafficking victims here are U.S. citizens. In fact, the State Department estimates that, of the world’s 27 million trafficking victims, about 100,000 live in the U.S.

Yet, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice, only 2,515 investigations of suspected incidents of human trafficking between January 2008 and June 2010, leading to 144 arrests so far. This means investigations were opened on only 2.5 percent of human trafficking cases. Federal efforts to address human trafficking in the U.S., it is clear, are simply not effective.

The U.S., however, still gets a top-notch rating from the State Department, which just-released the 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report, which evaluates worldwide efforts to fight modern-day slavery. The State Department uses a three-tier system. Tier 1 countries are in full compliance with the TVPA, Tier 2 countries are making “significant efforts” to comply and Tier 3 countries are making no efforts whatsoever. The U.S. is ranked as Tier 1, which begs the question: How useful is this rating system if a 2.5 percent prosecution rate gets us to the top?


Instead of giving us useful information about what countries are most effective in prosecuting trafficking, this map simply gives the illusion that the U.S. is doing a bang up job.  If we were more honest about U.S. efforts, though, it would expose the U.S. as less than the ideal society we think it is. In fact, federal efforts to address human trafficking are an abysmal failure.