Getting Out of Traffic: Applying White Collar Investigative Tactics to Increase Detection of Sex Trafficking Cases

Evan Binder | May 14, 2022

When federal authorities investigate sex trafficking, three realities are consistently present. First, most sex trafficking investigations begin in response to an individual affirmatively bringing evidence to investigators. Second, the elements required to prove a someone guilty of sex trafficking under federal sex trafficking laws incentivize prosecutors to rely on victim testimony and their cooperation throughout the life of the investigation. This can be, and often is, psychologically traumatizing for the victim. Third, most cases are viewed through a traditional tripartite structure, involving the trafficker, the victim(s), and the purchasers of the sex act (johns). However, recent high-profile sex trafficking indictments of Jeffrey Epstein and the lifestyle brand NXIVM demonstrate that trafficking schemes are frequently much more complex than that tripartite structure and involve many other individuals who either participated or were involved in the illicit conduct. As such, the way federal authorities investigate sex trafficking can, and should be, reimagined. Combining this knowledge with further research into the psychological effects of saddling victims with the burden of carrying an investigation through to conviction, sex trafficking investigators can look to prosecutorial tactics used by the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice. Since 1993, the Antitrust Division has operated their Amnesty Program, which grants immunity to those who either engage in or have knowledge of an illegal price-fixing scheme, and voluntarily bring this information to the government. The Division has seen great success with their leniency program, as over 90% of cases in the Division now begin with an amnesty cooperator. This Comment proposes that a similar leniency program could be utilized for investigating sex trafficking. A leniency program recognizes the three realities listed above: it fits within a reactive process for identifying cases, it relieves burdens on victims to begin investigations, and it recognizes that there are many other individuals who could provide information about illegal trafficking.

Cite as: Evan Binder, Getting Out of Traffic: Applying White Collar Investigative Tactics to Increase Detection of Sex Trafficking Cases, 112 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 631 (2022).