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Capturing Human Trafficking Victimization through Crime Reporting

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Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2015, $462,973)

Despite public attention to the problem of human trafficking it has proven difficult to measure the problem. Improving the quality of information about human trafficking is critical to developing sound anti-trafficking policy. In support of this effort, in 2013 the Federal Bureau of Investigation incorporated human trafficking offenses in the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program. Despite this achievement, there are many reasons to expect the UCR program to underreport human trafficking. Law enforcement agencies struggle to identify human trafficking and distinguishing it from other crimes. Additionally, human trafficking investigations may not be accurately classified in official data sources. Finally, human trafficking presents unique challenges to summary and incident-based crime reporting methods. For these reasons it is important to understand how agencies identify and report human trafficking cases within the UCR program and what part of the population of human trafficking victims in a community are represented by UCR data. We propose a study in three jurisdictions that have investigated human trafficking cases and represent different crime reporting structures to answer three research questions: 1) How are human trafficking cases identified and reported by the police? 2) What sources of information about human trafficking exist outside of taw enforcement data? 3) What is the estimated disparity between actual instances of human trafficking and the number of human trafficking offenses reported to the UCR? Building on previous collaborations, Northeastern University and the Urban Institute propose a multi-method research design that includes: interviewing law enforcement, other governmental agency and non-governmental agency subject matter experts to understand human trafficking identification and reporting processes; analyzing human trafficking records to identify how trafficking offenses come to the attention of law enforcement and get reported in departmental information systems and to the UCR program; identifying indications of human trafficking in crimes classified as other offenses; and gathering data from multiple systems in study communities to understand the degree of under reporting in UCR data utilizing multiple system estimation techniques. The proposed study will provide critical information to improve law enforcement identification and reporting of human trafficking. Additionally, the proposed study will help contextualize human trafficking reporting processes to help practitioners and the public interpret human trafficking data from the UCR program. Findings from the proposed study will be disseminated through a final summary report, presentations, research briefs for law enforcement, criminal information system specialists and service providers, and scholarly and practitioner publications.

Note: This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law.


Date Created: September 23, 2015