Human Trafficking:

Action Needed to Identify the Number of Native American Victims Receiving Federally-funded Services

GAO-17-325: Published: Mar 30, 2017. Publicly Released: Apr 6, 2017.

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Gretta L. Goodwin
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What GAO Found

All four federal agencies that investigate or prosecute human trafficking in Indian country—the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the U.S. Attorneys' Offices (USAO)—are required to record in their case management systems whether a human trafficking offense was involved in the case. With the exception of ICE, these agencies are also required to record in their case management systems whether the crime took place in Indian country. ICE officials explained that the agency does not record this information because, unlike BIA and the FBI, ICE is not generally involved in criminal investigations in Indian country. Typically, ICE would only conduct an investigation in Indian country if specifically invited by a tribe to do so. Further, with the exception of BIA, these agencies do not require their agents or attorneys to collect or record Native American status of victims in their cases due to concerns about victim privacy and lack of relevance of the victim's race to the substance of the investigation or prosecution.

The Departments of Justice (DOJ), Health and Human Services (HHS), and Homeland Security (DHS) administered at least 50 grant programs from fiscal years 2013 through 2016 that could help address Native American human trafficking. For example, 21 of these grant programs, which were administered by DOJ and HHS, could be used to provide services to Native American human trafficking victims. However, the total number of Native American victims who received services under these grant programs is unknown. HHS is developing a data collection tool that grantees can use to report information on human trafficking victims served, including Native American status of victims. DOJ's Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) requires grantees to report Native American status of victims served, but not by type of crime. DOJ's Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) do not require grantees to collect and report Native American status of victims served. However, in fiscal year 2017, OVC began providing recipients of human trafficking-specific grant programs the option to report the race or Native American status of victims served. While Native American status may not generally be a factor for determining whether a victim can receive services, it may be a factor for determining how best to assist this particular demographic. According to the 2013-2017 Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States, expanding human trafficking data collection and research efforts for Native Americans and other vulnerable populations is an area for improvement for the federal government. Additionally, Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government states that quality information should be used to achieve objectives based on relevant data from reliable sources. Without collecting data on the Native American status of victims served, federal agencies will not know the extent to which they are achieving government-wide strategic goals to provide and improve services to vulnerable populations, including Native American human trafficking victims.

Why GAO Did This Study

Human trafficking—the exploitation of a person typically through force, fraud, or coercion for such purposes as forced labor, involuntary servitude or commercial sex—is occurring in the United States. Traffickers seek out persons perceived to be vulnerable. Native Americans (i.e., American Indians or Alaska Natives) are considered to be a vulnerable population. DOJ, DHS, and the Department of the Interior investigate human trafficking crimes. Primarily, DOJ and HHS provide grants to fund victim services.

GAO was asked to examine Native American human trafficking. This report focuses on federal efforts to address human trafficking, including the extent to which (1) agencies collect and maintain data on investigations and prosecutions of human trafficking in Indian country or of Native Americans regardless of location and (2) federal grant programs are available to help address such trafficking, and how many Native American trafficking victims have received assistance through these programs. GAO reviewed human trafficking investigation and prosecution data from fiscal years 2013 to 2016; reviewed solicitations for human trafficking-related grant programs; and interviewed grant program officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOJ require its grantees to report the number of human trafficking victims served and, as appropriate, the Native American status of those victims. DOJ partially concurred with the recommendation. GAO clarified the recommendation and maintains action is needed.

For more information, contact Gretta L. Goodwin at (202) 512-8777 or goodwing@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We found that the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) required grantees to report the Native American status of victims served through its grant programs, but did not require grantees to report on the demographics of victims they served by the type of crime these victims endured. Therefore, OVW knew how many Native Americans its programs funded, but did not know how many Native American human trafficking victims its program funded. As a result, we recommended that OVW require grantees to report both on the number of human trafficking victims served using grant funding, and where appropriate, the Native American status of those victims. With respect to the first clause of this recommendation, in October 2018, OVW officials added required fields to the forms that grantees use to report on their activities as funded through the three grant programs whose authorizing statutes specify trafficking as one victimization type, among others, for which services can be funded. These fields now provide space for grantees to report information to OVW on the number of human trafficking victims served through the funding from these three grant programs. With respect to the second part of this recommendation, OVW officials maintain that it is not appropriate for them to report the Native American status of victims, disaggregated by type of crime, such as trafficking. Specifically, in October 2018, OVW officials noted the data collection and paperwork burdens this would place on grantees and cautioned about confidentiality concerns related to the risk of victim identification. We will close the entire recommendation as implemented because OVW took the noted actions to address the first clause of the recommendation and we indicated that OVW could make the second clause of the recommendation as it deemed appropriate. Though OVW will not be able to report on the number of Native American human trafficking victims served through its programs, improving data collection on the number of trafficking victims served, regardless of demographic, will help improve DOJ's overall data collection efforts.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that DOJ is contributing to efforts to improve data collection and service provision to Native Americans, the Director of OVW should require grantees to report the number of human trafficking victims served using grant funding, and, as appropriate, the Native American status of those victims.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs: Violence Against Women Office

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: We found that the Department of Justice (DOJ) did not know the total number of Native American victims who received services under human trafficking grant programs. While Native American status may not generally be a factor for determining whether a victim can receive services, it may be a factor for determining how best to assist this particular demographic. As a result, we recommended that the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) require grantees to report on the number of human trafficking victims served using grant funding, and where appropriate, the Native American status of those victims. In October 2017, DOJ reported that OJJDP identified three grant programs most likely to serve the Native American population: Reducing Reliance on Confinement and Improving Community-Based Responses for Girls At-Risk of Entering the Juvenile Justice System, Defending Childhood American Indian/Alaskan Native Policy Initiative: Supporting Trauma-Informed Juvenile Justice Systems for Tribes, and Mentoring for Child Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Domestic Sex Trafficking. DOJ updated the grant solicitations for FY 2018 and 2019 to include performance measures in order to obtain relevant demographic data. These measures included the total number of human trafficking victims served through the grant award during the reporting period by type of trafficking, the total number of victims served through the grant award who experience re-victimization during the report period by type of trafficking, and total number of services provided to human trafficking victims during the reporting period by type of service, among other information. In October 2017 and June 2018, DOJ held a number of webinars to educate the grantees on how to obtain and report the updated performance measures, including providing training materials and technical assistance. Officials also reported that relevant human trafficking measures were added to the OJJDP FY2018 Specialized Services and Mentoring for Child and Youth Victims of Sex Trafficking solicitation. According to officials, this was the only relevant solicitation released in FY2018 by OJJDP. These actions should help OVC and OJJDP improve data collection about and service provision to Native American human trafficking victims.

    Recommendation: To help ensure that DOJ is contributing to efforts to improve data collection and service provision to Native Americans, the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs should direct OVC and OJJDP to require their grantees to report the number of human trafficking victims served using grant funding, and, as appropriate, the Native American status of those victims.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Office of Justice Programs

 

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