By a Biometrica staffer
On Friday, Feb. 4, the Justice Department announced that Aaron Crawford of Maryland had been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison, followed by 20 years of supervised release. Why? For engaging in what Attorney General Merrick B. Garland has repeatedly termed “an insidious crime:” human trafficking. Crawford pled guilty to recruiting, harboring, and transporting two minor victims to engage in commercial sex acts. His case describes why human trafficking is considered an insidious crime by policymakers.
After Crawford (37) ‘recruited’ Victim 1, he posted the victim’s images in online advertisements for commercial sex and provided lodging in two locations for Victim 1 where Victim 1 conducted sex “dates.” Victim 1 was 15-years-old and had been reported missing for two months at the time. Crawford instructed Victim 1 to send sexually explicit images to him for the online advertisements.
Upon further investigation, law enforcement located numerous communications on Crawford’s phone between Crawford, Victim 1, and sex procurers between Nov. 5 2019 and Dec. 6, 2019. Crawford sent “johns” the addresses where Victim 1 was kept on 182 occasions. Most of the communications were related to facilitating prostitution in various locations in Maryland and the District of Columbia.
Crawford’s second victim was even younger when they first met. He met Victim 2 in March 2017 when Victim 2 was 13-years-old. He first introduced Victim 2 to an adult female who encouraged Victim 2 to work as a prostitute. Crawford refused to share profits from the commercial sex dates with Victim 2, though, and that led to Victim 2 leaving with the adult female. But, Victim 2 and Crawford met again in 2019.
At that time, Victim 2 performed sex acts for customers at Crawford’s direction at an apartment complex and a parking lot. When Victim 2 declined to engage in further commercial sex dates, Crawford raped Victim 2 and threatened to kill her if she did not engage in more sex dates. Luckily, Victim 2 escaped soon thereafter when Crawford left the apartment complex where he was keeping her. After Crawford’s arrest, investigators discovered that his cell phone contained communications with numerous women where he attempted to recruit them to work for him as commercial sex workers. In at least two of the conversations, the women identified themselves as minors.
It’s cases like these that tell us why it’s crucial to combat human trafficking, and always stay alert. To that end, on Jan. 31, the DOJ released its new National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking. The new strategy remains rooted in the foundational pillars and priorities of the interagency National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, which President Joe Biden released on Dec. 3, 2021.
“Human trafficking is a stain on our society’s conscience and an affront to the ideals that form the basis of our national strength: liberty, justice, equality, and opportunity,” Biden said in the introductory section of the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking published in December. The DOJ’s new strategy, it says, is expansive in scope and aims to enhance the department’s capacity to prevent human trafficking; to prosecute human trafficking cases; and to support and protect human trafficking victims and survivors.
Separately, child protection is what drives us at Biometrica. It is at the heart of why we do what we do, every single day: We want to use technology, our data, software, and systems, to help build partnerships that make our communities stronger, our world safer, and a little more secure for the most vulnerable amongst us.
In the rest of this piece, we’ll take a quick look at some key introductory takeaways from the DOJ’s new strategy.
- As we mentioned before, the new DOJ strategy is aligned with the foundational pillars of the President’s National Action Plan. The four pillars are —
Prevention of human trafficking
Prosecution of human trafficking cases
Protection of human trafficking victims and survivors
Partnership at every level of government
- The DOJ says its new strategy will “bring the full force of the Department to the fight.”
- In his statement on the new strategy, Attorney General Garland also said their work will involve cross-jurisdictional collaboration and coordination among federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial law enforcement partners. It will also require them to take a multi-disciplinary, trauma-informed approach that unites investigators, prosecutors, victim assistance specialists, and non-governmental service providers.
- The new strategy uses the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 as a foundation. The TVPA, in turn, defines human trafficking as:
1. The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act (sex trafficking), in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or,
2. The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.
- The DOJ goes on to explain that there’s a difference between trafficking and smuggling of people. “Human trafficking is sometimes incorrectly conflated with human smuggling. However, these are two distinct crimes,” it says. Human trafficking is a crime of exploitation committed against an individual that requires no transportation or physical movement, either internationally or domestically. By contrast, human smuggling is a crime against a country’s immigration laws and requires the illegal transportation of an individual across an international border; while some smuggling crimes also involve exploitation of the smuggled individual, others do not.
- As is the case with other crimes of exploitation and abuse, human traffickers often prey upon members of marginalized communities and other vulnerable individuals, including:
– children in the child welfare system or children who have been involved in the juvenile justice system
– runaway and homeless youth
– unaccompanied children
– persons who do not have lawful immigration status in the U.S.
– Black people and other people of color
– American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, and other indigenous peoples of North America
– Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals
– migrant laborers
– persons with disabilities
– individuals with substance use disorder
- Combating human trafficking requires us to recognize the intersection between these crimes and gender, racial, and economic inequality. Vulnerabilities such as poverty, limited English proficiency, or lack of lawful immigration status are often exacerbated by lack of stable, safe housing, and limited economic and educational opportunities, the DOJ adds in its strategy document.
- How do traffickers exploit these vulnerabilities? They manipulate them on multiple levels. First, they offer protection and opportunity, and then coerce victims to provide labor, services, or commercial sex through a combination of physical and sexual violence, threats of physical harm to their families or other close relations, psychological harm, financial or debt-related threats, threats of deportation or arrest, theft of disability benefits, manipulation of substance use disorder, or withdrawal of housing security or other material support.
- But, combating human trafficking doesn’t just mean dealing with criminals whose sole role is that of a trafficker. What do we mean by that? Often, human trafficking has a nexus to other criminal activities that pose a risk to public safety. Many human traffickers are members of domestic or transnational criminal organizations, and they are often engaged in drug-related crimes and financial crimes, such as money laundering, the DOJ says.
- Why is human trafficking tough to track, spot, and dismantle? Forced labor and sex trafficking are often hidden crimes that can easily evade detection, are frequently underreported, and are constantly evolving. Reliable prevalence estimates have been difficult to ascertain, the DOJ says. Cross-jurisdictional collaborations and partnerships at every level of government are an attempt to overcome the difficulty of documenting the full extent of human trafficking threats, and to increase law enforcement’s ability to detect and respond to cross-cutting human trafficking indicators.
In our next piece in this mini series on the new anti-human trafficking strategy, we will examine what the DOJ plans to do under each of the four foundational pillars we mentioned at the start of the piece.