A New Frontier: Community Prosecution and Human Trafficking

Written by: Regina Paulose

One of the greatest challenges in combatting human trafficking is developing holistic solutions that truly prevent and eradicate this crime in all of its forms. As discussed by the A CONTRARIO team this month, human trafficking represents a multi-billion dollar industry in which hundreds of thousands of people become victims to this brutal slave trade.

Top down approaches implemented by governments in the status quo are not adequate enough. Prosecution of this particular crime has proven particularly difficult.[1]  A recent report indicates that “additional proactive approaches (e.g., expanding outreach to additional law enforcement agencies and nongovernmental organizations and pursuing multijurisdictional and international trafficking investigations and prosecutions), requiring strategic collaboration among agencies, to enhance agency efforts to investigate and prosecute these crimes” is needed.[2]

One approach that could prove useful to the global community, is utilizing a new paradigm, such as community prosecution. Community prosecution allows all stakeholders : the general community, civic organizations, faith communities, and business people to contribute to the wellbeing of their communities. It allows these groups to shape policy and discuss preventative strategies that law enforcement and prosecutors can employ. Community prosecution shifts the prosecutorial paradigm from looking at cases as statistics and applying formulaic approaches and instead weaves the philosophy of deterrence and punishment in a proactive and collaborative manner. It promotes four key principles: (1) recognizing the community’s role in public safety (2) engaging in proactive problem solving (3) establishing and maintaining partnerships and (4) evaluating activities in the community.[3] The strategies employed depend on the needs of that specific locality.[4]   Community prosecution is restorative justice. Its true beauty  lies in the fact that there is “no self-defining vision or unitary meaning inherent to the concept of community prosecution.”[5]  It is not a one size fits all solution.

How can community prosecution combat global human trafficking? People become prey to human traffickers because of various “push-pull” factors. A “push” factor that is commonly discussed is that people become susceptible to trafficking because of dire economic circumstances/impoverishment. Therefore, the accompanying “pull” factor that is used is the promise of gainful employment or better opportunities in another country. Under a community prosecution paradigm, prosecutors and law enforcement would educate their assigned localities regarding human trafficking and encourage reporting of poor labor conditions, sexual violence, and prostitution.  In addition, prosecutors, the community, and law enforcement would come up with particular programs to address this problem in their localities. These methods are of course, fused with the regular prosecution of individuals who commit crimes. It therefore prevents the legal system from applying band aid solutions. 

A method like community prosecution also serves to enhance the rule of law. It undermines corrupt governments who profit from human trafficking and it weakens organized criminal groups who ruin the very fabric of society and the rule of law. Idealistically, it creates society where no criminal is given a safe haven for their crimes. It also creates reforms in many places in need of a strong rule of law because the public actively participates. It gives people a voice and gives people  power in becoming part of a solution.

If the movement in combatting human trafficking is to gain more momentum, it is necessary for prosecutors to have a more dynamic role within  the community. The function of a prosecutor should not be to serve as a wizard behind a curtain (inaccessible to the public) but to champion justice, to promote and aid in dispensing the rule of law, and to work with law enforcement in deterring crime for the safety of the community.


[1] Ellie Bogue, Human Traffickers Tough to Prosecute, (may 7, 2011), available at: http://www.news-sentinel.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20110507/NEWS/105070327. See also ICF International, Prosecuting Human Trafficking Cases: Lessons Learned and Promising Practices, Executive Summary, June 30, 2008, viii, available at: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/223972.pdf
[2] GAO, HUMAN TRAFFICKING A Strategic Framework Could Help Enhance the Interagency Collaboration Needed to Effectively Combat Trafficking Crimes, GAO -07-917,  33,34, (July 2007), available at: http://www.gao.gov/assets/270/264645.pdf
[3] National District Attorneys Association, National Center for Community Prosecution, available at: http://www.ndaa.org/nccp_home.html
[4] Goldcamp, Irons-Guynn, and Weiland, Community Prosecution Strategies: Measuring Impact” Bureau of Justice Assistance Bulletin, 6, (November 2002) available at: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/bja/192826.pdf
[5] Anthony Alfieri, Community Prosecutors, 90 Cal. L. Rev. 1465, 1476 (2002), citing Anthony C. Thompson, It Takes a Community to Prosecute, 77 NOTRE DAMEL. REV. 321,324 (2002), who also argues that the lack of structure also creates a problem because there is no unifying vision.
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