For the past three years, the U.S. Department of State has issued an annual report assessing international sex trafficking and evaluating national efforts to combat trading in persons in countries around the world. The United States has assumed leadership in combating this modern scourge of human slavery. Previously, though, there has been no published assessment of trafficking within the United States. For the first time, the U.S. Department of Justice has issued an “Assessment of U.S. Activities to Combat Trafficking in Persons.” Just released this week, the document is a milestone in the effort to stop the underworld of prostitution and forced labor along with the kidnapping, abduction and unbelievable cruelty that is integral to this heinous crime.
The Justice Department report (JD-TIP) acknowledges the difficulties inherent in tracking commercial sexual and labor exploitation because of the nature of the crimes, where and when they take place. Obviously, however, trafficking is fed by organized crime and it is dramatically expanding from its underground, sleazy environment into international arenas of technological and transnational enterprises. The increased sophistication of the crime syndicates, however, poorly conceals the evil activity and the cruel, dehumanizing exploitation that are perpetrating on what President Bush has called “the most vulnerable members of the global society.”
The JD-TIP reports a basic fact that is already well-known the United States is primarily a destination country. This means that the demand for prostitutes in the U.S. feeds the criminal abductions of young girls from other countries. The JD-TIP assesses U.S. efforts to prevent trafficking, to prosecute the criminals and to assist the victims.
The Year 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was a major step forward in acknowledging the trafficking problem in the U.S. and putting into place laws that would make it possible to combat the problem. Previously, there was nothing to give “teeth” to protection and prosecution efforts; nor was there anything substantive that would assist victims. The TVPA has provisions to help victims, specifies penalties for criminal activity, provides assistance to those countries that are working to combat trafficking, and institutes sanctions for those countries that refuse to cooperate in protecting women and children from trafficking. In addition, the law mandates interagency cooperation and a “new, comprehensive approach to the problem.”
Significantly, the Executive Branch of the U.S. government has been a driving force behind these new approaches and the President’s commitment has been clear in his formal declaration, a National Security Presidential Directive on Trafficking in Persons, as well as in his outspoken advocacy of eradicating trafficking. By establishing an office in the State Department specifically to address sexual trafficking and by appointing former Representative John Miller to head the effort, the United States is making great strides forward and significance progress is being made on numerous fronts. The foundation of these efforts is good information; the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report and the new Justice Department Assessment of sex trafficking in the United States provide vital information necessary for understanding the extent and nature of the problem and knowing where and how to address the problem.
According to the JD-TIP, approximately 18,000 to 20,000 people are trafficked into the United States annually. With improved methods of data collection and methodology, this figure provides a benchmark from which to track trends and monitor the success of anti-trafficking efforts in the future.
In addition, the President has established a cabinet-level task force to combat and monitor trafficking in persons. Along with a senior policy advisory group that will coordinate and advise on key policy and program issues, efforts should be better coordinated and implemented in the future. Specifically, the United States effort includes:
Protections for and Assistance to Victims of Trafficking
Victims will have access to benefits and services
Efforts will be made to provide victims with knowledge about their rights as well as the protections available to them
Repatriation will be provided for victims who choose to go home
Immigration relief is available to victims
Nongovernmental organizations and the public will provide outreach and training
Investigations and Prosecutions of Traffickers
The JD-TIP provides detailed information about the human trafficking cases under investigation admittedly labor and time-intensive criminal investigations that face numerous barriers of language and culture. The TVPA has enabled the government to uncover and prosecute cases more effectively.
o In March 2003 there were 128 investigations underway nearly twice as many as in January 2001.
o The Department of Justice has initiated more than double the number of trafficking prosecutions (20 vs. 9), involving more than three times the number of defendants (79 vs. 24) than prior to TVPA.
o The number of defendants successfully prosecuted increased more than two-fold (51 vs. 23) and more than doubled the number of cases filed (11 vs. 5), quadrupled the number of defendants charged (53 vs. 13), and tripled the number of defendants successfully prosecuted (38 vs. 12) since TVPA.
o While these accomplishments are lauded and mark significant progress, the JD-TIP acknowledges that the number of cases is low in comparison to the estimated magnitude of the problem.
Sentences in trafficking cases
o The TVPA provides sentencing guidelines, created mandatory restitution and forfeiture provisions all aspects of the law that will “ensure that defendants convicted of trafficking in persons receive sentences that reflect the seriousness of their crimes.”
o In November 2002, amendments to the TVPA provided increased sentencing for using weapons.
Training federal and local law enforcement
o This provision is necessary because the new laws and more complete information necessitate different approaches and procedures.
Prevention of trafficking
o Ideally, prevention of trafficking is the most effective barrier to this cruel human rights violation.
The United States hosted an international conference in February 2003, “Pathbreaking Strategies in the Global Fight Against Sex Trafficking.” Held in Washington, DC, over 113 countries were represented and more than 400 activists summarized the best practices around the world for combating trafficking in persons.
o Education is necessary for people to understand the scope of the problem and how traffickers work. In Fiscal Year 2002, the United States supported approximately 200 anti-trafficking programs totally more than $55.8 million benefiting over 75 countries (compared to 118 programs in 55 countries in 2001).
o In the past two years, the U.S. has invested over $100 million on anti-trafficking efforts.
Attorney General John Ashcroft said, “Those who traffic in human lives treat people as easily expendable and highly profitable. But behind each dollar sign is a human tragedy.” The anti-trafficking efforts of the United States are designed to end the human tragedy of trafficking in persons. The Trafficking in Persons office, the TIP report, and now, the assessment published by the Justice Department are all basic elements that are essential in the fight to restore human rights to those vulnerable women and children who are targeted by the basest criminals around the world for the unspeakable crime of abduction for human slavery.
Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse has been active in anti-trafficking efforts for over a decade. She works closely with both U.S. officials and with non-governmental organizations in cooperative efforts. She was an official United States Delegate to the 2003 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women where the major issue confronting that worldwide body was the increase in sexual trafficking of women and girls. Her articles and reports on sexual trafficking and other issues are posted at www.cwfa.org.