Human trafficking may be illegal in countries around the world, but the gruesome practice remains alive and well.
Contrary to popular opinion, human trafficking is not simply a third-world problem. Human trafficking is occurring all over the world, even in our own backyard.
Human traffickers continue to buy and sell human beings, whether they be young or old, male or female, for sex or for physical labor—and they make an estimated $150 billion every year.
Modern-day slavery may be hidden to our eyes, but it is real, and it is time to end it.
January was National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and to honor the month, The Heritage Foundation hosted a panel on modern-day slavery with a focus on how the U.S. can do a better job fighting it.
One author of this piece, Olivia Enos, participated in the panel and suggested three areas of focus for the Trump administration.
First, U.S. officials should clarify the term “human trafficking.” The term remains ambiguous, and there still is no clear-cut estimate of the number of people victimized by the practice as well as perpetrating it.
Second, the administration should create specialized anti-trafficking law enforcement units, stationed both domestically and abroad.
Third, the administration should use Treasury Department tools to implement a follow-the-money strategy to target traffickers and their profits.
During the discussion, Mark Lagon, former ambassador-at-large for the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, gave an overview of past administrations’ efforts to combat human trafficking.
The George W. Bush administration focused heavily on sex trafficking early on, but later sought to give equal attention to labor trafficking. By contrast, the Obama administration placed a greater emphasis on labor trafficking than sex trafficking, its anti-sex trafficking efforts being somewhat limited to that of children.
The Trump administration seems to be tilting back in the direction of focusing on sex trafficking, with a specific concern for the exploitation of women and girls.
Lagon highlighted the importance of caring for victims after they’ve been rescued. He listed three P’s in fighting human trafficking: prosecution of the perpetrators, protection of the victims, and prevention.
Both U.S. law and the United Nations Palermo Protocol place a heavy emphasis on the first P—prosecution—but Lagon suggested that they need to work more on the second P: protection.
“If you have limited resources, the first thing to do is to find the victims of human trafficking, give them shelter, get them physical/medical care, get them therapy for the trauma they have been through, get them job training, and help them get placed in jobs, [which is] the ultimate way that people can reclaim their dignity.”
Allison Hollabaugh, counsel at the Helsinki Commission, outlined the current legislative efforts to address human trafficking. Congress is now poised to reauthorize the Trafficking Victim Protection Act, which she said primarily calls for stronger prevention measures to address trafficking.
There is much work to be done in the year ahead on trafficking, as the panel made clear. The Trump administration should carefully consider the mark that it wants to leave on the state of human trafficking.
The Trump administration took few steps to address human trafficking in 2017, but 2018 can, and should, be the year the White House makes it a top human rights priority.