The government increased law enforcement efforts. The national anti- trafficking law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment, a fine of $5,000-$25,000, or both for offenses involving adult victims, and up to 30 years’ imprisonment, a fine of $5,000-$50,000, or both for offenses involving child victims. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regards to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape. Each of Micronesia’s four states had its own laws that criminalized trafficking crimes; however, Pohnpei and Chuuk States did not explicitly prohibit adult sex trafficking. Cases prosecuted at the state level may be heard subsequently at the national level, under national anti-trafficking law, depending on which court hears a case.
The government investigated eight suspected trafficking crimes and prosecuted nine alleged traffickers, compared with no investigations and four prosecutions the previous year. Media reported that the October 2019 murder of the acting Attorney General of Yap may have been related to her prosecution work, including on human trafficking. The prosecution of the two defendants, begun in 2019, remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period.
Courts convicted nine sex traffickers and sentenced five of them during the reporting period, compared with four traffickers convicted the previous year. Courts sentenced three traffickers to significant prison terms, for a total of 60 percent of traffickers serving significant prison time of one year or longer. While the length of some sentences increased, approximately 40 percent of all trafficking convictions resulted in fines, probation, or prison sentences of less than one year, which did not serve to deter the crime or adequately reflect the nature of the offense. Observers reported that longstanding concerns about lenient sentences of a year or less, or sentences that were not served on consecutive days, created potential safety problems for trafficking victims and weakened deterrence. The four other convicted traffickers’ sentences were pending in the Pohnpei State court. Authorities charged a government official with sex trafficking under the anti-trafficking law, as well as other crimes under other laws. Authorities removed the official from duty while pending trial. The government did not report any other investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) assigned a full-time assistant attorney general to prosecute all human trafficking cases. In addition, DOJ had three dedicated investigators who specialized in human trafficking: one in Chuuk, one in Pohnpei, and one in Kosrae. The government, in partnership with an international organization, trained law enforcement officials on victim identification and victim assistance. Compared with the previous reporting period, the government did not report providing training activities to judicial officials or health care providers. Judges lacked specialized training, and consequently, some judges lacked sensitivity to trafficking issues and the trauma victims experienced, resulting in judges sentencing traffickers to penalties that were disproportionately low to the severity of the crime. The government’s police academy training for new cadets included mandatory training on investigating trafficking cases and how to interview potential victims. Observers stated police still required additional training on sex trafficking and investigation techniques. Police frequently did not investigate or charge those who abetted trafficking crimes, such as hotel owners, taxi drivers, and family members. Government officials reported the lack of personnel, resources, and funding impaired anti-trafficking monitoring efforts of forced labor or sex trafficking on vessels in Micronesian waters. The insular nature of the small island communities at times protected traffickers and impeded investigations.