While more than 400 children who have been sold for sex or forced labor have been referred to Connecticut’s child welfare agency in recent years, not a single person has been convicted in state court of trafficking in the last 10 years.
Top state legislators and the Permanant Commission on the Status of Women announced those statistics Tuesday and scheduled a press conference for Thursday at the state Capitol complex to draw attention to the problem. A two-hour forum with experts on the topic will follow.
While most cases involve sex crimes, some children and adults are forced to work without pay in homes or businesses.
“What we need to focus on now is support of the law enforcement component. Multiple arrests, prosecutions and incarcerations will not only erode the sex trafficking industry in Connecticut, but will send a very clear message that those who engage in this type of crime will be arrested and imprisoned,” said Sen. Danté Bartolomeo, the co-chair of the legislature’s Committee on Children.
Major obstacles stand in the way of prosecution, including the lack of a coordinated approach among officials and the fear instilled in victims about what will happen to them or their families if they come forward.
“They are so terrified of their pimp,” Krishna Patel, the assistant prosecutor for the U.S. attorney’s office in Bridgeport, said then. “I know for a fact I have trafficking cases that I will not be able to charge anyone. It’s really hard to prove a case without a willing victim.”
Sen. Tim Larson, the co-chair of the Public Safety Committee, expressed disappointment over the situation Tuesday.
“It is not enough to pass a law that says we are going to protect people from trafficking, one of the most violent and brutal types of crimes,” he said in a press release. “We must also commit to investigating this type of crime, and enforcing the law where a crime is found to have occurred. That is the only way we can seek justice for those who have become victims of human traffickers. I find it shocking that in the few cases that have gone before the courts, not one alleged trafficker has been convicted.”
The state’s Trafficking In Persons Council said in its 2015 report that the Connecticut chief state’s attorney’s office had informed them that federal prosecutors at the U.S. attorney’s office handle most, if not all of the investigations that may lead to prosecutions in Connecticut.
In the last decade, the Connecticut U.S. attorney’s office has prosecuted 28 cases for sex trafficking, most of which involved children. Twenty-six pleaded guilty or were convicted after trial and two are awaiting trial.
“It seems only fitting that the TIP Council and the Connecticut General Assembly gain a solid understanding of why no one has been convicted of trafficking in Connecticut, how barriers to justice can be removed, and what can be done to ensure that when someone commits an act of modern-day slavery in the state of Connecticut, he or she is prosecuted,” the report concludes.
“Prostitutes are more than twice as likely to be arrested as those patronizing prostitutes and nearly seven times more likely to be convicted. Prostitutes are also twenty times more likely to be convicted than those arrested for promoting prostitution.”