Human Trafficking Law Project
Launched in February 2011 by the Human Trafficking Clinic at Michigan Law School, the Human Trafficking Law Project (HTLP) is the first publicly available database of human trafficking cases within the United States. Through the HTLP, the Clinic hopes to strengthen anti-trafficking laws in the United States and to support government officials, law enforcement agencies, and practitioners who are working on behalf of human trafficking victims.
The human trafficking database is an ongoing project. The entries that are currently viewable on the website represent only those cases that, to date, have been approved following our thorough review process. We are continually reviewing and adding new cases to the database.
If you have questions or requests, or would like to hear more about the data we are collecting, please contact the HTLP.
Our goal in creating the HTLP is to maintain a database of federal and state human trafficking cases, both criminal and civil, within the United States since 1980. Although the comprehensive federal anti-trafficking law, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), was enacted in 2000, the database includes cases going further back in time to offer a fuller view of trafficking in the United States. The TVPA's definition of both labor and sex trafficking requires a showing of "force, fraud, or coercion," used to recruit, harbor, transport, obtain, or employ a person in involuntary servitude. Force, fraud, or coercion need not be shown in cases where children under 18 are trafficked for the purpose of commercial sex. To achieve a thorough and consistent review, HTLP researchers analyze not only cases prosecuted under the TVPA, but also apply the TVPA standard to evaluate other potential human trafficking cases from 1980 to the present.
Details about cases are gathered from a number of sources, including case opinion and news databases on the LexisNexis search engine; government websites, such as those maintained by the U.S. Departments of Justice and State; Internet search engines; and legal research services such as Bloomberg Law and Westlaw. Every case that we identify as a potential human trafficking case is reviewed twice to ensure that the entry is accurate and complete: once by a law student researcher and once by an HTLP project manager. After a case is reviewed and approved by the project manager, it appears in the publicly viewable database.
Although we have established a comprehensive research methodology, there are still a number of challenges to collecting cases for the database. Too often, trafficking goes unrecognized and underreported, and as a result there are far fewer trafficking prosecutions in the United States than there are actual incidents of trafficking. And even when criminal charges or civil actions are brought against traffickers, these cases rarely produce the type of record which would appear in commercial research databases. The availability of state cases is particularly limited. Another obstacle to collecting details about cases is that many criminal defendants involved in trafficking accept plea bargains to avoid trial. Although we have addressed some of these hurdles by gathering cases and information from electronic media and other similar resources, users should be aware that the population of cases in the database does not necessarily represent wider trends in the incidence of trafficking in the United States.
Despite these challenges, we are committed to thorough research and analysis of available materials in order to provide users with complete and accurate information. We believe that the collective knowledge and experience presented in the database can serve as a critical resource for the elected officials, law enforcement officers, and practitioners who are working to end human trafficking and to improve the lives of trafficking survivors.