Over-Policing Sex Trafficking: How U.S. Law Enforcement Should Reform Operations

The report launched during our virtual event on November 15, 2021. Click here or on the flyer to access a recording of the event.

The launch featured the following panelists:

Professor Hannah Garry, is a Clinical Professor of Law and the Director of the International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) at the University of Southern California (USC) Gould School of Law.

Garry’s research, teaching and practice has centered on confronting some of the most pressing international human rights concerns—from international justice and accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, to upholding refugee and fair trial rights, advocating against human trafficking and fighting for racial justice. She recently filed an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of torture victims from the U.S. war on terror, and made amicus oral arguments with UN Special Rapporteurs before the International Criminal Court on behalf of torture survivors from the war in Afghanistan.

Currently, Garry is working with Clinic student attorneys to launch a report on the effects U.S. law enforcement anti-sex trafficking sting operations are having on underrepresented communities, a brief on atrocities against the Cameroonian Anglophone population before the International Criminal Court, and two reports on fair trial rights violations against journalists and human rights defenders in Morocco and Kyrgyzstan. The Clinic is also working on evacuation of Afghan families to the U.S. as well as representing trafficking survivors. Garry launched the IHRC 10 years ago to prepare the next generation of human rights advocates. She is expanding upon that work in her research as well. Earlier this year, she received a Fulbright scholar grant to study the enforcement of international refugee law at the University of Oslo Law PluriCourts Centre in Norway. Garry is USC Gould’s first Fulbright research scholar among full-time faculty in the history of the law school. 

Garry obtained her JD from Berkeley Law in 2002, her master’s in international affairs from Columbia University in 2001 and was a Visiting Study Fellow in forced migration studies with distinction at Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Programme, Queen Elizabeth House, U.K. from 1995-1996.

Maura Reinbrecht, Advanced Student Attorney, was the moderator of this event and a primary author of the report. Under the supervision of Professor Garry, she conducted a majority of the interviews and report analysis.

Maura has been a long-time advocate for refugee rights, ever since she began volunteering at a local Hispanic center in her hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania. After seeing the injustices faced by many clients there, Maura became determined to alleviate the pressing needs of those with limited resources. As an undergrad at New York University, Maura studied abroad in Buenos Aires, ​where she interned at Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ) which promotes the rights of children with disabilities and migrant children living in slums. For her senior thesis, she wrote about the educational and legal challenges that unaccompanied Latinx minors face in the U.S., receiving grants to travel to Guatemala, a children’s shelter in Brownsville, Texas, and a high school in Los Angeles known as a refuge for migrant children. While writing her thesis, she volunteered at the NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic interpreting for Spanish-speakers facing deportation, as well as other organizations providing free legal services to migrant and refugee children. After graduating from NYU, Maura volunteered at Community Justice Project, a non-profit law firm providing immigration services, and spent six months volunteering in Mexico City at Instituto para las Mujeres en la Migración (IMUMI), giving presentations to migrants about U.S. asylum requirements, conducting intake interviews of unaccompanied minors, and coordinating information sessions with local migrant shelters.

During her time at USC Gould, Maura has been named a Public Interest Scholar and has been involved with the International Refugee Assistant Project (IRAP), and the Public Interest Law Foundation. She has interned at the Legal Aid Society of New York in the Immigration Unit and at Sullivan & Cromwell in New York, where she will be working after graduation. She is currently a Douglass Fellow at the Human Trafficking Institute (HTI).

Suamhirs Piraino-Guzman currently oversees King County’s largest publicly funded behavioral health initiative, the Mental Illness and Drug Dependency Tax Fund at the King County Department of Community and Human Services. Suamhirs was the Senior Program Coordinator at the International Rescue Committee and led the Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network. Suamhirs graduated from the University of California San Diego with a Master’s in Psychology. He has years of experience developing curriculum and providing training on trauma-informed care, mental health, human trafficking, evidence-based practices, and more to Child Welfare Systems and non-profit organizations across 38 states. Suamhirs’ professional experience also includes direct services to vulnerable youth, program management, policy advocacy around foster care and human trafficking, and co-coordination of the National Survivor Network. As a male survivor and an expert in behavioral psychology, Suamhirs has been an active consultant for the Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime, a subject matter expert Consultant for the Department of Health and Human Services National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistant Center, and the International Association of Human Trafficking Investigators, and is a member of the National Council for Community Behavioral Health. He was appointed by President Barack Obama to the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking and has worked with the United Nations and Vital Voices International to develop curriculum and training on engaging men in gender-based violence initiatives. 

Susie Baldwin, MD, MPH, FACPM is a preventive medicine specialist who works as Medical Director for the Office of Women’s Health at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (DPH). Her team focuses on issues impacting women’s health equity including sexual and reproductive health, gender-based violence and human trafficking, and women’s health epidemiology. Dr. Baldwin Co-Chairs the DPH Human Trafficking/CSEC Task Force and represents DPH on the County’s CSEC Steering Committee. She also represents DPH on the County’s Gender Responsive Advisory Committee, working to improve conditions for women and gender expansive people in LA County jails while advancing the County’s Alternatives to Incarceration Initiative. 

Dr. Baldwin is a co-founder of HEAL Trafficking, a non-profit organization leading innovative health care solutions to human trafficking since 2013. She served as its Board President until 2021. She led work on the HEAL Protocol Toolkit for Responding to Trafficking Victims in Health Care Settings; was part of the first U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ technical working group on trafficking, which developed the national SOAR curriculum for health care providers; and has served as a consultant for the National Human Trafficking Technical Assistance Center.

Dr. Baldwin attended Columbia University, SUNY Downstate College of Medicine in Brooklyn, NY, and the Zuckerman School of Public Health at the University of Arizona. She completed two post-doctoral research fellowships and has published on many public health topics. Dr. Baldwin has received numerous awards for her work.

Jess Torres (they/them) is an educator and cultural worker dedicated to advocating for the marginalized and criminalized. They have worked as the Survivor Leadership Program Coordinator at the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) in Los Angeles and as the Community Liaison for the Mayor’s Office to End Gender Based Violence (GBV) in New York City. As a result of these positions, Jess brings 15 years of dedication to policy advocacy and community building in the anti-trafficking and anti-GBV movement. Currently, Jess is serving on the development team at The Little Market, an organization whose mission is to support meaningful income opportunities and dignified labor for the artisans they employ globally. In addition to policy and organizing work, Jess has also served as a guest lecturer in academic spaces, a keynote speaker, and as an independent consultant. In these capacities, they have collaborated with various federal agencies and participated in international conferences and symposia. 

Kiricka Yarbough Smith is the Director of Human Trafficking Programs at the North Carolina Council for Women and Youth Involvement, where she has worked since 2015. She also serves as a consultant for the Office for Victims of Crime at the U.S. Department of Justice, as a faculty member for Futures Without Violence, and as a consultant and trainer for the Office on Trafficking in Persons at the Administration for Children, Youth and Family, and the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Center at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Trained as a social worker, Kiricka addresses human trafficking at its intersections with other issues, including mental health, developmental disabilities, substance abuse, domestic violence, sexual violence, and child advocacy. She has over 20 years of combined experience working in these areas. Kiricka is the former Human Trafficking Program Manager at the NC Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and a former Investigator for Project No Rest at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Administration for Children and Families. She also served as the Chairperson of the NC Coalition Against Human Trafficking from 2014-2019. As a 2021 Human Trafficking Leadership Academy Fellow, Kiricka helped develop recommendations to address institutional inequities and barriers to accessing services for survivors of human trafficking and communities of color.

Martina E. Vandenberg is the founder and president of The Human Trafficking Legal Center.  Vandenberg established the organization in 2012 with generous support from the Open Society Foundations Fellowship Program.  For more than two decades, Vandenberg has worked to fight human trafficking, forced labor, rape as a war crime, and violence against women. Vandenberg has represented victims of human trafficking pro bono in immigration, criminal, and civil cases. She has obtained T-visas for trafficking survivors and won significant civil judgments in federal cases.  Vandenberg has trained more than 4,000 pro bono attorneys nationwide to handle human trafficking matters.  She provides technical assistance to legal teams handling trafficking cases. Vandenberg has also testified before multiple House and Senate Committees on issues ranging from human trafficking and peacekeeping to forced labor in global supply chains. 

She gave the keynote address at the first NATO ambassadorial-level conference on human trafficking in Brussels, and has worked to combat trafficking of third country nationals onto U.S. military bases for forced labor.  Her work has been cited in The Washington Post, the New York Times, the New Yorker, NPR, CNN, and the BBC. Vandenberg previously served as a partner at Jenner & Block LLP, where she focused on complex commercial litigation and internal investigations under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  She served as a senior member of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee and handled multiple human trafficking matters pro bono while at the firm. A former Human Rights Watch researcher, Vandenberg spearheaded investigations into human rights violations and war crimes. She conducted HRW investigations in the Russian Federation, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Uzbekistan, Kosovo, and Ukraine. She is the author of two Human Rights Watch reports, “Hopes Betrayed: Trafficking of Women and Girls to Post-Conflict Bosnia & Herzegovina for Forced Prostitution,” and “Kosovo: Rape as a Weapon of ‘Ethnic Cleansing.’” 

As a researcher for the Israel Women’s Network, she investigated and published the first report documenting human trafficking into Israel. While living in the Russian Federation in the 1990s, she co-founded Syostri, one of Russia’s first rape crisis centers for women. Vandenberg has received multiple awards for her leadership against human trafficking.  In 2012, the Freedom Network USA presented Vandenberg with the Paul and Sheila Wellstone Award for her “outstanding leadership and dedication in working to combat human trafficking and slavery in the United States.” In 2013, she received the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation’s Stevens Award for outstanding service in public interest law.  In 2015, she received the Katharine & George Alexander Law Prize.  She also received Albert E. Jenner, Jr. Pro Bono Award for her successful representation of trafficking victims in United States federal courts and her advocacy before Congress.  In 2020, Vandenberg received an honorary doctorate from her alma mater, Pomona College. In 2021, she received the Blaisdell Award, Pomona College’s highest honor for alumni of the college. She currently co-chairs the D.C. Human Trafficking Task Force’s Forced Labor Subcommittee. A Rhodes Scholar and Truman Scholar, Vandenberg has taught as an adjunct faculty member at the American University Washington College of Law and at the Oxford University Human Rights Law Summer Program.  She is a graduate of Pomona College (B.A.), Oxford University (M.Phil), and Columbia Law School (J.D.). 

About the Report

The report is one of the first comprehensive reports about U.S. anti-sex trafficking law enforcement operations, jointly coordinated at the federal, state and local levels, and often known as “raids”, “stings” or “sweeps”. They involve law enforcement working undercover or investigating private establishments to identify persons who are sex trafficked (referred to as survivors or victims), and perpetrators. The U.S. government has long used these operations as a primary means for addressing sex trafficking, presenting them as an effective anti-sex trafficking tool through compelling media releases and press conferences. Meanwhile, there is little public data about operations’ outcomes and funding, despite distressing claims that operations harm and retraumatize persons who are sex trafficked, while perpetuating systemic racism as well as discrimination against LGBTQ individuals and undocumented immigrants.

“Anti-sex trafficking operations identify few victims or traffickers and instead result in the arrest, physical, verbal and sexual abuse of many victims and sex workers—a disproportionate number of whom are LGBTQ people, undocumented immigrants and people of color, particularly Black women and minors,” says IHRC Director Professor Hannah Garry.

Our report analyzes whether operations actually protect persons who are sex trafficked, prosecute traffickers, and prevent trafficking as required under the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). Based on a comprehensive review of the literature, interviews with 42 anti-trafficking professionals, and responses to 16 public records requests, we found minimal evidence that operations further these goals. Instead, our research and analysis suggest operations are ill-suited for achieving the aims of the TVPA, and are a product of the United States’ overreliance on law enforcement and a retributive criminal justice approach to address complex societal issues that instead require nuance and understanding of trauma, race, and poverty.

In light of our findings, we urge law enforcement to reconsider their use of operations to combat sex trafficking in the U.S. Effective anti-trafficking efforts are moving away from support for use of operations, focusing instead on community involvement; public health and harm-reduction strategies; and investing in poverty relief, anti-discrimination initiatives, and opportunities for education and employment. We implore law enforcement to join this movement by drastically curtailing the scope of operations to address the limited situations in which they can actually be effective, and to incorporate our concrete recommendations for reforming operations when they are used as follows:

1. Drastically limit the use of operations while supporting community and public health approaches to identify victims and traffickers outside of the criminal justice system; 
2. Redirect funding to evidence-based victim identification methods that are more effective and less harmful to victims, and to the extent operations continue, implement strict policies and training that increase the efficacy of victim identification while minimizing trauma to victims; 
3. Increase the transparency of operations to support more effective oversight;
4. Strengthen prevention efforts that reduce the vulnerability of potential victims;
5. Increase services available to victims and systematically offer comprehensive services to every suspected victim; 
6. Improve communication between nonprofit service providers, prosecutors and other law enforcement agencies, community organizations and sex workers.

The following individuals and organizations endorse our report and its recommendations:


1. Advocating Opportunity

2. Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles

3. BU Law Immigrants’ Rights and Human Trafficking Program

4. Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST)

5. Cornell Gender Justice Clinic

6. Global Health Justice Partnership of the Yale Law and Public Health Schools

7. Human Trafficking Legal Center

8. National Network for Youth

9. Pars Equality Center

10. Reframe Health and Justice

11. The Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center

12. SWOP Behind Bars: Sex Worker Outreach Project


1. Erin Albright, Founder of New Frameworks

2. Alex Andrews, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of SWOP Behind Bars

3. Chris Ash, Nonprofit Leader & Trainer

4. Dr. Susie Baldwin, MD, MPH, FACPM

5. Rose Cob, Vice President and General Counsel, MDRC

6. Courtney Dunkerton, Anti-Human Trafficking Specialist

7. Prof. Annalisa Enrile, PhD, USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work

8. Prof. Annie Isabel Fukushima, PhD, Associate Dean, Univ. of Utah

9. Dr. Rosana Garciandia, King’s College London

10. Philip Gnaedig, Licensed Clincial Social Worker

11. Dr. Sofia Gruskin, USC Institute on Inequalities in Global Health

12. Olga Irwin, Spokesperson and Policy Mentor, Positive Women’s Network

13. Prof. Kathleen Kim, Associate Dean of Equity & Inclusion, Loyola Law School

14. Prof. Laura T. Murphy, PhD, Helena Kennedy Centre for Int’l Justice, Sheffield Hallam Univ.  

15. Prof. Stephanie Richard, Director, Rights in Systems Enforced, Loyola Law School

16. Prof. Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

17. Suamhirs Piraino-Guzman, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, MPsy

18. Prof. Annie Smith, Director, Human Trafficking Clinic, University of Arkansas School of Law

19. Anita Teekah, Senior Director, Anti-Trafficking Program at Safe Horizon

20. Professor Philippa Webb, King’s College London

21. Dr. Kristen Zaleski, SDP-Keck Human Rights Clinic