Maryland has second-most defendants charged in federal human trafficking cases, study shows

Prosecutors in Maryland charged more defendants in federal human trafficking cases last year than any other federal district other than the Southern District of New York, according to a new study by the Human Trafficking Institute.

Fourteen of the fifteen people charged in federal human trafficking cases last year in Maryland had sex-trafficking-related charges. One person had a labor-trafficking charge.

Across the nation, there were a 297 defendants charged in sex-trafficking and labor-trafficking cases in 59 federal districts, according to the report.

Federal trafficking cases have skyrocketed since Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000 that criminalized human trafficking. That year, there were only four federal human-trafficking cases, according to the Human Trafficking Institute. In 2007, when the Justice Department created the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, there were 55. In 2018, there were 171 cases.

Robert K. Hur, the U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland, said that though he hadn’t read the report, human trafficking is a priority for his office and that Maryland has relatively high numbers in part due to strong partnerships with local law enforcement and victims’ service groups. The state’s central location along Interstate 95 and the Eastern seaboard is also a factor, he said.

Hur said that a significant portion of the cases his office works on in Maryland deals with the sex trafficking of underage girls and that their traffickers often use drug addictions or physical force to keep them under control.

Criminal justice professor Jay S. Albanese with the Virginia Commonwealth University said Maryland’s relatively high ranking also likely speaks to the dedication of its federal prosecutors in investigating in prosecuting these more complicated crimes, explaining that trafficking cases may require prolonged surveillance and source development to prove that there was force, fraud or coercion. Other investigators could stop short and charge offenders in cases that require fewer elements of proof, such as running a prostitution business.

“It could actually be good news,” Albanese said of Maryland’s numbers.

Hur said there is significant human trafficking in Baltimore and that it is in part due to gang activity looking to make money.

“We’re proud of what we’ve done, but there is more to do,” he said.

The report said that 95 percent of the human trafficking cases across the country involve sex trafficking. Albanese said this is in part due to the more secretive nature of labor trafficking, which makes it harder to track and prosecute. He said unlike sex trafficking, which requires regular interfacing with the public, labor traffickers may more easily keep victims hidden on farms or inside homes with less interaction with the public.

crentz@baltsun.com