Understanding What Works

in Labor Trafficking Cases in the United States

+ Meredith Dank

Introduction and Problem Statement

Previous research has focused on the challenges to the successful identification, investigation, and prosecution of labor trafficking cases (Farrell, et al., 2012, Farrell & Pfeffer, 2014). Research on labor trafficking, particularly around law enforcement response, is often appended to studies focused mainly on sex trafficking. Although there are counties throughout the United States demonstrating success in identifying and prosecuting labor trafficking cases, there has been little empirical focus on what works. Until now, we did not understand the frameworks in which labor trafficking cases are successfully identified and under which labor traffickers are brought to justice.

This objective of this study was to identify promising practices in labor trafficking identification and response in five U.S. counties that have demonstrated innovation and commitment to addressing the problem of labor trafficking. Innovative strategies included dedicated labor trafficking investigators, specialized units within county district attorneys’ offices, and a statewide multidisciplinary team approach that incorporates efforts to identify and respond to labor trafficking. Through a review of closed case records and in-depth, semi-structured interviews with local criminal legal system agents and victim service providers who have worked on labor trafficking cases or with labor trafficking survivors, this study sought to investigate how labor trafficking came to be prioritized in these jurisdictions and how labor trafficking response is situated in the unique policy, legal, and cultural frameworks of each participating county. This project also explores the ways in which labor trafficking enforcement is understood and operationalized as distinct from sex trafficking enforcement and identifies the challenges addressing labor trafficking with which these five U.S. counties continue to struggle despite their prioritization and established frameworks.

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Meredith Dank, Ph.D., is a Clinical Associate Professor and directs the Human Exploitation and Resilience program of the NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management.

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