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Combating Human Trafficking in America

Big Picture

Human trafficking is the methodical exploitation of people for labor or sexual activity. It is a heinous crime that harms millions of Americans and non-citizens each year. So what are we going to do about it?


Operative Definitions

  1. U.S. Department of State: An executive department of the U.S. government that deals with foreign policy and international relations.

  2. Human trafficking: Defined by the U.S. Department of State as “the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud or coercion.”

  3. U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking: A section under the U.S. Department of State that works with victims of human trafficking to help law enforcement address this issue.

  4. Vacatur laws: Allow survivors and victims of human trafficking to be protected from crimes they were coerced into committing by their abusers.

  5. Department of Homeland Security (DHS): A U.S. federal department that is responsible for the country’s security and safety from foreign threats. 

  6. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE): A government agency that advises the Secretary of the Department of Health on policy development regarding health, disability, human services, data, science and economic policy. 


Important Facts and Statistics

  1. Human trafficking is extremely underreported, which means that information and statistics about trafficking are most likely much greater than calculated.

  2. Many assumptions about human trafficking are untrue, including, but not limited to, “trafficking is always violent,” “it always involves sex,” “targets of traffickers are random” and “victims are always girls.” Anyone can be a victim of human trafficking.

  3. In 2019, according to the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were a total of 22,326 American trafficking victims and survivors.

  4. According to ASPE, an estimated 50,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year.


Eight-Point Plan

(1) Expand human trafficking awareness training within private firms. Mandate firms to require employee awareness training during orientation and/or new-hire training. This is specifically important within the industries of hospitality and entertainment, where sex trafficking is most prevalent.


(2) Educate schools and students on human trafficking. High school teachers and counselors need to be trained on human trafficking and its indicators so that they can properly report any suspicious activity. Schools must teach students how to identify human trafficking victims and what to do if they meet one. 


(3) Require the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking to hold biannual hearings. Currently, the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking holds an annual hearing, allowing victims’ voices and stories to be publicly heard. To increase awareness and vouch for the heinous crime of trafficking, the council must hold hearings twice a year, so more victims can speak up, share their stories and advise others on how to combat trafficking.


(4) Federally and fully enact vacatur laws. Because trafficking victims may be coerced into committing illegal acts, their abuser must be held accountable instead of the victim themselves. Vacatur laws let courts remove convictions like theft, prostitution and assault for crimes that trafficking victims were forced to commit by their abusers. Currently, 18 states have fully enacted the laws and another 10 states have partially enacted them. By removing these illegal acts from a victim’s record, they have a higher likelihood of being able to return to society more easily and safely. 


(5) Encourage states to coordinate training for women’s shelters across the country. Direct shelter staff to combat trafficking and provide safe havens for victims by providing health inspections and counseling resources. Homeless populations, especially homeless women, are more at risk of being trafficked because they are more vulnerable and may not have as many active friends and/or family members to notice their absence.


(6) Make police stations readily available for victims of human trafficking. Require all members of law enforcement, of both public and private firms, to be trained in recognizing the common indicators of trafficking. This will increase America’s ability to tackle certain trafficking hotspots while reducing trafficking rates. 


(7) Urge social media companies to monitor suspicious, trafficking-related activity. Traffickers often send threats to victims and their families online. The use of public-private sector collaboration to create a national tracking database for human trafficking will help combat this issue. Online dating apps, such as Bumble and Hinge, must be required to verify profiles so that users are aware of their authenticity. These apps must require warnings about the dangers of meeting strangers without precautions, as human traffickers have previously used dating apps as a tactic to lure victims. All suspicious accounts must be forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). 


(8) Ensure that proper legal action is taken against firms engaged in human trafficking. Any private company found to be involved with human trafficking, whether illicitly transferring people or knowingly aiding such operations, will be required by the U.S. government to cease all operations.


Why This Initiative Is Important

This proposal’s holistic approach enables Americans to effectively confront human trafficking, including the sex trade and forced servitude. Trafficking survivors are victims, not criminals, and this plan protects them accordingly. Police officers and schools will be trained to navigate the physical and mental effects of abuse on trafficking victims. This proposal enables the reintegration of trafficked victims back into day-to-day life by expanding necessary resources within education, law enforcement and private businesses.


Economic Impact (From Our Student Economist Team)

Globally, human trafficking costs $150 billion per year. Increasing resources to prevent human trafficking will reduce the funds channeled into black markets.


Acknowledgments

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual authors whose information can be found below.


The following student(s) worked on this proposal: Meaghan Shea, Marist College; Kayla Lim, San Diego State University; Grace Madden, Dominican Academy; Deja Jackson, Lafayette College.


The following individuals gave feedback during the creation of this proposal:

  1. Joana Kaso, Immigration and Human Trafficking Attorney, The Law Office of Joana Kaso, PLLC. White Plains, NY.


Note: Not all participants necessarily agree with every aspect of this proposal.


Sources

Clawson, H. J., Dutch, N., Solomon, A., & Grace, L. G. (2009, October 30). Human Trafficking Within and Into The United States: A Review of the Literature (United States, U.S Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation). Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://aspe.hhs.gov/report/human-trafficking-and-within-united-states-review-literature#Trafficking.

International Labor Organization. Profits and Poverty: the Economics of Forced Labour. International Labour Office, ILO, 2014. 

Polaris. (2020, November 12). 2019 U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline Statistics. https://polarisproject.org/2019-us-national-human-trafficking-hotline-statistics/.

Polaris. (2021a, January 6). Take Action. https://polarisproject.org/take-action/.

Polaris. (2021b, February 18). Policy & Legislation. https://polarisproject.org/policy-and-legislation/.

U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. (2020, December 1). United States Department of State. https://www.state.gov/u-s-advisory-council-on-human-trafficking/.

Van Dijk, J. (2016). Monitoring Target 16.2 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UN, United Nations, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime). Retrieved February 23, 2021, from https://www.unodc.org/documents/research/UNODC-DNR_research_brief.pdf.

“40 Million in Modern Slavery and 152 Million in Child Labour around the World.” Modern Slavery and Child Labour: 40 Million in Modern Slavery and 152 Million in Child Labour around the World, International Labor Organization , 19 Sept. 2017, www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_574717/lang--en/index.htm.

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