Since passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000, the United States has seen a steady increase in awareness of human trafficking as a serious crime and human rights violation. The reauthorizations of the TVPA in 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013, significantly impacted the dedication to funding law enforcement efforts, service provisions for victims, and the prosecution of trafficking crimes at the federal, state, and local levels. Yet, despite aggressive legislative and outreach efforts, human trafficking remains one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises in the United States. It also remains one of the most difficult crimes to investigate and prosecute. Investigative efforts are time-consuming and labor intensive, which may pose particular challenges to smaller law enforcement agencies.
Misconceptions about the nature and elements of human trafficking persist. One of the most common myths among U.S. law enforcement is that only foreign nationals are victims of human trafficking. Though many victims of human trafficking come to the United States from other countries, victims include both foreign nationals and U.S. citizens, and all are compelled to engage in either forced labor, sex trafficking, or both. Another myth is that trafficking in persons occurs only in illicit businesses such as brothels and “massage parlors.” However, it also is found in legitimate industries, including hospitality, agricultural, manufacturing, janitorial, construction, health and elder care, and domestic service, among many others. Given its heterogeneous nature, it is no surprise that human trafficking has been found in all 50 states, and no community is inviolable.