(3TV/ CBS 5) -- Despite the high-profile charges against financier Jeffrey Epstein, federal prosecutors are pursuing fewer child sex trafficking cases nationwide under the Trump administration, according to researchers at Syracuse University.
Federal prosecutors are on pace to file 162 child sex trafficking cases in fiscal 2019, a 26.7 percent drop from last year and a 32.2 percent drop from five years ago, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse or TRAC.
Prosecutions have declined in back-to-back years under the Trump administration after a spike at the end of President Obama’s term, the study found.
Still, the number of projected prosecutions in 2019 is significantly higher than 10 years ago, up 90.6 percent.
Researchers did not explain the recent dip but noted that “every U.S. Attorney is appointed by the president” and prosecutors “have generally followed broad administration enforcement policies.”
Some experts have attributed the decline in prosecutions to the Trump administration’s focus on border and immigration enforcement, saying prosecutors have less time to spend on complicated child sex trafficking cases. One former prosecutor suggested Trump’s immigration stance may be making victims trafficked from other countries less willing to testify.
“I think it's too early to say whether or not President Trump has caused this impact,” said Kathleen Winn of Project 25, a group whose mission is to end sexual exploitation by 2025.
Winn theorized that prosecutors may be victims of their own success. She said the market for sex predators has become more fragmented after the takedown of Backpage.com in April 2018.
“They were 80 percent of the world market [for sex trafficking],” Winn said. “I just think it's harder for law enforcement. It's labor-intensive cases when you have foreign sites that are selling our children to us. It's just gotten more complex.”
Of the cases that do get referred to prosecutors by law enforcement agencies like the FBI, the TRAC study says federal prosecutors have been declining to file charges at a higher rate.
“In the last full year of the Obama Administration, federal prosecutors prosecuted 49 percent of these referrals,” the authors noted. “This percentage has been slipping since. During FY 2017, it was 46 percent. And in FY 2018, it was 42 percent. So far, in this fiscal year, Justice Department records show that the rate has fallen to 39 percent.”