Agriculture’s Growing Problem: Investigating and Prosecuting Labor Trafficking and Co-Occurring Crimes in the Illicit Cannabis Industry

Despite the recent legalization of cannabis cultivation, possession, and use in many states across the country, the illicit market for the drug is still booming. The illicit cannabis industry is causing profound harm to the communities in which it operates—harm that goes far beyond simply producing off-the-books marijuana. Illicit market growers often seek to sidestep agricultural and worker regulations, causing widespread environmental harms, including blackouts, water theft, damage to flora and fauna, poisoned waterbeds, and wildfires. The human cost of illicit cannabis growth is even greater. Across the country, investigators have discovered laborers who have been forced to work in inhumane conditions—often without pay—and in close proximity to dangerous chemicals at illegal cannabis cultivation sites. Workers are often threatened with physical violence or deportation if they report to authorities.


Pursuing these crimes often requires a specialized skill set among prosecutors and investigators. This Strategies Newsletter demonstrates how investigators and prosecutors, working in conjunction with local and federal stakeholders, can ensure that labor traffickers in the illicit marijuana industry are held accountable for the full range of their conduct.Agriculture’s Growing Problem

Upstream Violence Prevention: The Role of Extreme Risk Protection Orders in Mitigating Gun Violence

Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs), also known as Red Flag Laws, are a promising tool of intervention but are relatively unknown to prosecutors across the nation. ERPOs are court orders that temporarily restrict access to firearms for individuals at elevated risk of harming themselves or others. As caseloads swell and rates of violence surge, prosecutors, law enforcement, and advocates can learn about and begin to deploy tools that can help mitigate and prevent future harm upstream— when warning signs first come to light.

This presentation is led by national experts from the Regional Domestic Violence Firearms Enforcement Unit of the King County, Washington Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Presenters discuss how criminal justice professionals can utilize ERPOs to restrict firearm access for individuals exhibiting a wide variety of high-risk behaviors. They also explore the efficacy of ERPOS to reduce gun violence.

As a result of this presentation, participants will be better able to:
-Understand the purpose and scope of extreme risk protective orders
-Incorporate extreme risk protective orders into existing protective order practice

A SANE Approach to Human Trafficking Cases

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) are invaluable collaborative partners in a prosecutor’s response to human trafficking. Victims of sex and labor trafficking are at risk of serious injury, as well as short- and long-term physical and psychological health consequences, and SANEs provide much-needed medical care to these patients. Trafficking investigations and prosecutions are also enhanced by the addition of SANEs to a multidisciplinary team. SANEs document injury, collect evidence, and provide critical insight into medical issues and survivor responses to trauma that can educate criminal justice practitioners and jurors alike.

Co-presented by SANE and prosecutor subject-matter experts, this presentation demonstrates the value of collaboration in trafficking cases. The SANE explains the health risks associated with sex and labor trafficking, the content of a medical forensic examination, and documentation of victim statements and demeanor. The prosecutor provides strategies to improve the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases by using SANEs as fact and expert witnesses and litigating the admissibility of victim statements under the medical hearsay exception.

At the conclusion of this presentation, participants will be better able to:
-Enhance prosecutions by ensuring that victims of sex and labor trafficking are provided meaningful access to health care and injuries and medical history are documented
-Articulate the role of the SANE in providing medical-forensic exams
-Present medical evidence and expert testimony at trial


This presentation was produced by AEquitas under 15POVC-21-GK-03263-HT, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this presentation are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

State, Meet Federal: Prosecuting Law Enforcement Involved Sexual Violence

Those who commit crimes involving sexual violence often exploit the disparate power dynamic between victim and offender — whether the relationship is between teacher and student; producer and actor; coach and athlete; or law enforcement officer and arrestee, probationer, or inmate. By wielding weapons of authority, the perpetrator leaves the victim with little choice but to submit to sexual acts and stay quiet in the aftermath, fearing that they will be disbelieved or blamed if they try to report it. This is especially true in the law enforcement context, where victims are usually in the custody of their offender and have a history of criminal activity, which often has an impact on their credibility in the eyes of untrained professionals, juries, and the public.

This presentation addresses the reaches of federal jurisdiction to prosecute sexual violence by those acting under color of law at all levels of government. It discusses how coordination among federal and state authorities can enhance investigations into reports of sexual violence, and if the evidence permits, help determine in which jurisdiction to bring charges. It further focuses on three critical Federal Rules of Evidence that can be used to corroborate a victim’s account and build a strong case — even where there is no physical evidence or eyewitness testimony.

Forced Criminality: Understanding Human Trafficking Through the Lens of Utah’s Victor Rax Case

 As human trafficking awareness has risen across the United States and the globe, there are still blind spots that prevent law enforcement from recognizing the exploitation of the most vulnerable people in the their communities. To bridge this disconnect, law enforcement must learn to see abusive and exploitative circumstances through a human trafficking lens, even if those circumstances do not match how movies, television shows, or even well-meaning awareness campaigns portray human trafficking within the United States. The reality of human trafficking is that it most commonly involves an offender who positions themselves as trustworthy and then identifies, recruits, and exploits vulnerable individuals to turn a profit. These same tactics used to identify, recruit,, and coerce victims are also designed to allow the trafficker to escape accountability. However, as Utah’s case against the prolific trafficker Victor Rax illustrates, when law enforcement, prosecutors, and victim service professionals collaborate, human trafficking in all its forms can be identified, offenders can be arrested and charged, and victims can be supported to start rebuilding their lives.Forced Criminality Through the Lens of the Victor Rax Case

Just Exits: Achieving Justice: The Prosecutor’s Role

The criminal justice system can serve as both an on-ramp to and an off-ramp from sex trafficking and exploitation. As gatekeepers within the criminal justice system, prosecutors are uniquely positioned to identify sexually exploited women and girls, make fair charging decisions, facilitate criminal record relief, and link survivors with services and support. In these ways, prosecutors can clear the way to a different life path and achieve justice for survivors. 

The presenters bring their lived and professional experience to this presentation, which emphasizes prosecutors’ duties to achieve justice over convictions and to proactively remedy wrongful convictions. Presenters discuss strategies for engaging survivors, avoiding wrongful criminalization, and providing access to just criminal record relief.

Just Exits: Assessing Culpability: Context Before Conviction

Human traffickers assert force, fraud, and coercion against victims in order to profit from commercial sex or forced labor or services. Offenders use a variety of tactics designed to ensure that victims will do what they are told without resistance, questioning, or disclosure to law enforcement. This physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual control too often allows traffickers to escape accountability.  This presentation is designed to improve responses to trafficking and exploitation while ensuring that victims are not inappropriately charged with crimes they are forced to commit.


Collaboration is key to any response to trafficking and exploitation, but imperative where the complexity of victim-offender dynamics is not easily understood or revealed.  This presentation provides law enforcement and prosecutors with strategies to uncover the reality of the victim’s involvement in the trafficking organization or within the exploitation dynamic. Presenters provide a framework for assessing the culpability of individuals who may initially be identified as both victims and defendants. They also provide suggestions to assist prosecutors in making ethical and appropriate immunity and charging decisions as well as designing appropriate dispositions.

Just Exits: Being Trafficked: What You Need to Know About “the Life”

The criminal justice system can serve as both an on ramp to and an off ramp from sexual exploitation. To minimize on ramps and maximize off ramps, we must first understand the complex nature of sex trafficking and exploitation. Traffickers prey upon vulnerabilities that are often historic and systemic in nature.  They use a variety of tactics designed to ensure that victims will do what they are told without resistance, questioning, or disclosure to law enforcement. This physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual control over victims too often allows traffickers to escape accountability.  This presentation is designed to improve our understanding of what it is like to be sexually exploited and to illustrate how we can improve our response to victims, who often do not see the criminal justice system as a viable off ramp from “the Life”.

The presenters bring their lived and professional experience to this presentation, which will focus on factors that impact entry into “the Life”, the realities of sexual exploitation and trafficking, and the factors that impede or delay exits.  The presentation will provide criminal justice professionals with tools for identifying individuals vulnerable to exploitation, limiting on-ramps, and providing viable off-ramps to achieve justice for survivors.

Investigating and Prosecuting Trafficking in Illicit Massage Businesses: Part 3

This portion provides an overview of how trauma impacts victims of IMBs and discusses practical trauma-informed interviewing techniques that help us build rapport with victims, investigate crimes, and develop stronger victim narratives. The presenters discuss making appropriate charging decisions, litigating pretrial motions to protect victim privacy, establishing the elements of the charges with or without victim participation, and educating the jury through voir dire, expert testimony, and effective witness examinations.