President Obama has declared January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, saying “this month we rededicate ourselves to stopping on of the greatest human rights abuses of our time.” So there’s no better place to start than by continuing to provide funding to groups that provide support to victims of human trafficking in the United States–right?
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which was first proposed and passed with bipartisan support in 2000, defined human trafficking as a person “induced to perform labor or a commercial sex act through force, fraud, or coercion” and deemed any person under 18 a victim of human trafficking, regardless of whether force, fraud, or coercion was present. It defined the victims of trafficking as victims, not criminals. The Act provided non-profit groups like FAIR Girls with the funding to support victims of sex trafficking and protected 20 million. But after re-authorization in 2003, 2005, and 2008, TVPA was allowed to expire in 2011. GovTrack.us shows the bill’s status as “Died.”
The United States has been a global leader in the fight on human trafficking. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been a longtime champion for the cause, citing “more than a dozen years” of work on this issue at the presentation of the 2012 Trafficking In Persons Report in June, and in a September address at the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting President Obama lent his support to stopping this “debasement of our common humanity.” So why does it seem instead to have stopped legislatively?
Andrea Powell, a co-founder of FAIR Girls, explained the lack of re-authorization of TVPA this time around to The Cycle hosts as a product of election year politics, pushbacks on spending, and lack of awareness. “Everyone loses if this isn’t reauthorized,” she said. “No one, whether it’s an American child or a man from Bangladesh, deserves to be enslaved.”
Without re-authorization of the bill, agencies like Powell’s will have fewer resources to provide support and services to victims.
The State Department has estimated that 27 million people worldwide are victims of modern slavery. Progress is being made both in terms of awareness and of diminishing the numbers of people trafficked every year. The 2012 Traffic In Persons Report “tells us that we are making a lot of progress,” said Powell. She told Cycle host Steve Kornacki that these “hidden crimes” are becoming more visible.
“This is a human rights issue that’s in development. Thirty, forty years ago nobody really knew what domestic violence was, and they’re asking questions like ‘Why didn’t you just leave?’ Well, now we’re having that same conversation about modern-day slavery and we’re definitely making progress. Not only are we seeing more and more people understand the issue, we are getting more and more girls referred to us…that’s real progress. But we have a really long way to go before that question of ‘Well, why didn’t she just leave?’ stops and instead we’re all asking ‘How could I help her leave?’”
But first, opponents of human trafficing must lobby for renewed support of TVPA.