Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series on human trafficking. Part one was published in Saturday’s Weekend Edition of The Daily Press.

Agent Lesley Faulkner of the Arkansas State Police’s Crimes Against Children Division (CACD) said several law enforcement agencies have joined to form a Trafficking Task Force to investigate trafficking crimes in Northeast Arkansas.

“It started in August 2019,” she said.

Faulkner said the trafficking phone tip line is (870) 336-7256. “And there is somebody local there to answer it,” she said.

Information Faulkner made available indicated the task force consists of representatives of:

The federal Department of Homeland Security

The Jonesboro Police Department Internet Crimes Against Children

CACD

The Arkansas State University Police Department

The Craighead County Juvenile Office

The Pocahontas Police Department

“We assist the counties surrounding Jonesboro with this type of crime,” Faulkner said. She added the investigators are certified to conduct structured interviews of children to get detailed information about alleged trafficking-type crimes.

In addition, she said, the Jonesboro-based Northeast Arkansas Child Advocacy Center also assists with both interviews of, and also care for, children suffering from child abuse in any capacity. In the context of human trafficking, its advocates seek to ensure children go under as little stress as possible during interviews and examinations.

The services of the Child Advocacy Center are free, and extend to Clay, Craighead, Greene, Lawrence, Mississippi, Poinsett, and Randolph Counties.

Faulkner said the Hope Found group also works to help victims with needs including clothes, food and a place to stay.

Recently released figures from the federal Human Trafficking Report indicate that in 2019, there were a total of 145 new human trafficking criminal cases (as well as 88 civil cases) in the United States, out of a total of 606. Of the new criminal cases nearly all (136) were sex trafficking cases; 48 of the 88 civil cases were sex trafficking cases. The remainder of both civil and criminal were for forced labor. There were a total 339 convictions nationwide.

In Arkansas, federal prosecutors charged two individuals, both in the Eastern District, with criminal sex trafficking in 2019, achieving convictions in both. There were a total of five such cases open in the state.

The totals are down from 2018, in which 171 new criminal human trafficking cases were filed, 163 of which were for sex trafficking. That year there were 346 convictions nationally.

In 2019, the state opened two sex trafficking criminal cases, one each in the Eastern and Western Districts. There was only one conviction, however, which was in the Western District.

Nationally, the trend has been generally downward since 2015, from 224 new trafficking cases (218 for sex) to 145 last year. Out of the total of 967 new human trafficking cases in the six-year period, 919, (93 percent) were for sex trafficking.

Although there is a provision for convicted defendants to pay restitution to victims, federal prosecutors in Arkansas have not required any restitution in 2018 or 2019. Nationally, according to the figures from Human Trafficking Report, only 33 percent of such convicted defendants had to pay restitution.

On the other hand, the average prison sentence for convicted defendants in 2019 was 143 months, down from 145 in 2018.

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