Human Trafficking: Implementation of Related Statutory Provisions, Law Enforcement Efforts, and Grant Funding

GAO-16-748T Published: Jun 28, 2016. Publicly Released: Jun 28, 2016.
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What GAO Found

GAO identified 105 provisions across six human trafficking-related statutes that called for the establishment of a program or initiative. Many of the provisions identified more than one entity that is responsible for implementing the programs or initiatives. The breakdown of whether or not federal entities reported taking actions to implement these provisions is as follows:

  • For 91 provisions, all responsible federal entities reported taking action to implement the provision.
  • For 11 provisions, all responsible federal entities reported that they had not taken action to implement the provision.
  • For 2 provisions, at least one of the responsible federal entities reported that they had not taken action to implement the provision or they did not provide a response.
  • For 1 provision, none of the responsible federal entities provided a response.

The provisions cover various types of activities to address human trafficking and related issues, including victim services, coordination and information sharing, and training and technical assistance.  Agency officials provided various explanations for why they had not taken any actions to implement certain provisions for which they were designated as the lead or co-lead. For example, in three cases, officials cited that funding was not appropriated for the activity.

Federal, state and local law enforcement officials and prosecutors we interviewed reported that investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases is challenging for multiple reasons, including a lack of victim cooperation, limited availability of services for victims, and difficulty identifying human trafficking. According to these officials, victim service programs, such as those that provide mental health and substance abuse services have helped improve victim cooperation; however, the availability of services is limited. Federal, state, and local agencies have taken or are taking actions to address these challenges, such as increasing the availability of victim services through grants and implementing training and public awareness initiatives.
GAO identified 42 grant programs with awards made in 2014 and 2015 that may be used to combat human trafficking or to assist victims of human trafficking, 15 of which are intended solely for these purposes. Although some overlap exists among these human trafficking grant programs, federal agencies have established processes to help prevent unnecessary duplication. For instance, in response to recommendations in a prior GAO report, DOJ requires grant applicants to identify any federal grants they are currently operating under as well as federal grants for which they have applied.  In addition, agencies that participate in the grantmaking committee of the Senior Policy Operating Group (SPOG)—an entity through which federal agencies coordinate their efforts to combat human trafficking—are to share grant solicitations and information on proposed grant awards, allowing other agencies to comment on proposed grant awards and determine whether they plan to award funding to the same organization.

Why GAO Did This Study

Human trafficking involves the exploitation of a person typically through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of forced labor, involuntary servitude, or commercial sex. Human trafficking victims include women, men and transgender individuals; adults and children; and foreign nationals and U.S. citizens or nationals who are diverse with respect to race, ethnicity, and sexuality, among other factors. Over the few decades, Congress has taken legislative action to help combat human trafficking and ensure that victims have access to needed services. The executive branch also has several initiatives to address human trafficking in the United States and assist victims. The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (JVTA) includes two provisions for GAO to study efforts to combat human trafficking. This testimony summarizes GAO’s May 2016 and June 2016 reports that were related to the JVTA. Specifically, this testimony addresses (1) federal efforts to implement certain provisions across six human trafficking-related statutes, including the JVTA; (2) any challenges faced by federal and selected state law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies when addressing human trafficking; and (3) federal grant programs to combat trafficking and assist trafficking victims, as well as the extent to which there is any duplication across these grant programs.

For more information, contact Gretta L. Goodwin at 202-512-8777 or

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