Disability advocates and experts in human trafficking know that stories like D.P.’s, while almost certainly underreported, are not uncommon.12 People with disabilities (PWD) and, especially those with intellectual disabilities (ID), are overrepresented in trafficking-victim populations.
At the federal level, great strides have been made by advocates for PWD. The ADA and the expansion of hate crime statutes during the Obama administration have made people with disabilities a better-protected group overall, most notably with respect to architectural accommodations and employment discrimination. However, there is still a long way to go. Practitioners (e.g. social workers, health providers and researchers) are just beginning to recognize the unique vulnerabilities of PWD to human traffickers and while federal laws like the TVAP have sought to provide protections for victims, the bulk of trafficking cases will be prosecuted at the state level. The differences between state and federal anti-trafficking statutes have left gaps consisting of legislative, educational and jurisdictional mismatches. People with disabilities are all too likely to fall through these gaps. A lack of access to legitimate employment means that PWD are disproportionately represented among victims of labor trafficking – the most common form of human trafficking. At the same time, labor trafficking is the least-prosecuted type of trafficking and PWD are often shunted to civil court where they may or may not receive any recompense for the violations against them.
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