The Modern Ford of Slavery: Human Trafficking

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Would are we ignoring 25 million people globally that are being treated as modern day slaves? Young vulnerable women are promised work and a new life but are abducted, transported, abused and enslaved. They are forced into labor, prostitution, and drugs, living in poor living conditions without any basic human rights. Currently, human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world which makes a profit of approximately $32 billion a year (Archer, 2013). The United Nations referred to human trafficking as an “epidemic” (Hodge, 2014). The US should not ignore these victims and should be more active in addressing international human trafficking because women are imprisoned and disregarded. Their human rights are being violated; judicial systems need to collaborate to more actively prosecute perpetrators and make more concise laws about the treatment of these victims; law enforcement organizations need to work together to uphold the law, keep people safe and inform the public of the seriousness of human trafficking and all nations should address this as a human rights issue together.

The US has an obligation to put a stop to human trafficking because it is a modern day form of slavery. Slavery is any system in which principles of property are applied to people. Victims of human trafficking are taken from their homes, threatened by their traffickers, kept from knowledge of basic human rights and resources, and subjected to physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse. This is modern day slavery which is illegal under the Thirteenth Amendment of the US Constitution which states “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude… shall exist within the United States”. There are about 700,000 people trafficked across international borders each year, therefore the US is already involved and it is necessary that the US takes action on this issue. Women and girls make up eighty percent of the trafficked individuals with fifty percent of those being girls under eighteen years of age (Roby, 2008). In addition to the physical abuse and coerced sexual acts, mental health needs are most likely more profoundly harmed due to the intense psychological damage inflicted by traffickers. These victims are undoubtedly extremely vulnerable. Research suggests that 28 percent of trafficked women visited a health professional while being trafficked (Hodge, 2014). Medical personnel, psychologists, and social workers are critical in helping survivors move toward psychological wellness and can identify victims in settings such as hospital emergency rooms. “Survivors tend to have elevated levels of depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, guilt, shame, mistrust of others, social withdrawal, loneliness, loss of self-esteem, substance use and abuse, hostility, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and suicide” (Hodge, 2014). It is estimated that “200,000 women annually are forced into the sex trade” in the US (Archer, 2013). Human trafficking is not only in other countries, it is an issue that is greatly prominent in the US. Surprisingly, the largest annual human trafficking event in the US is the Super Bowl. As human beings we have a right to help these people who have fallen victim to human trafficking and have to endure the consequences of an inactive support system.

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The US has a responsibility to make laws that specifically focus on the rights of human trafficking victims. There are currently some laws established however they are not concise as to the treatment of victims or prosecution of perpetrators. The Mann Act, signed into law by President Taft in 1910, made transporting women across state lines with the purpose of prostitution a crime. Due to this policy both victims and perpetrators were prosecuted (Roby, 2008). However, human trafficking and people smuggling are two separate concepts which can not be interchanged. “People smuggling” is the illegal movement of people across international borders for a fee and when they arrive the smuggled person is free (“What is Human”, 2019). The next policy that addressed human trafficking was the Trafficking Victims and Protection Act (TVPA) passed by President Clinton in 2000, and reauthorized in 2003 and 2005. This act addressed first, protections and assistance for victims, second, prosecution of criminals for human trafficking, and third US efforts to prevent human trafficking in other countries. Although this policy has been in effect since 2000 there has been no discussion as to whether the policy is effective in bringing justice to the perpetrators of human trafficking (Roby, 2008). According to this policy only victims of “severe” trafficking that are willing to assist in the prosecution of the perpetrator are assisted and granted continued presence in the US. Severe requires that they be part of commercial sex, involuntary servitude, or harboring a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion. If their case is not determined to be severe they may be treated as an illegal immigration case and deported. So, in order for human trafficking victims to tell their story they need to be treated severely and must assist in the criminal case as the prerequisite to their initial and continuing status as victims. Victims of human trafficking are no different than any other victim that has been exploited or traumatized and they should be treated with extreme care and given the necessary help they need to recover. They should not be used as law enforcement tools.

However, sometimes the needs of victims are taken into consideration in America. During recovery, the needs for health care and safety for their children and family members are typically prioritized (Hodge, 2014). According to the US Department of State, the US is the only country that offers the possibility of permanent residency to victims. In the past ten years “the overall trafficking number of cases filed, defendants charged, and defendants prosecuted have risen dramatically” (Roby, 2008). There should also be new global legislation for the issue of human trafficking. The first global attempt to deal with this problem was the United Nations’ Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children or the Palermo Protocol which was in effect in 2003. It criminalized trafficking and provided the first internationally agreed-upon definition of trafficking in persons (Hodge, 2014). There needs to be a more recent global agreement made on the policy for human trafficking. Thankfully, the US federal government has prioritized human trafficking prosecutions (Renzetti, 2015). Now the citizens of the US and law enforcement agencies have to mobilize around this issue.

United States law enforcement agencies are for the purpose of keeping people safe and upholding the law. Although the TVPA has been in effect since 2001, many law enforcement officials still lack awareness of the Act and the issue which needs to change. The US is a prominent destination for human trafficking so law enforcement officials should be informed of what it constitutes and how to handle it. However, in reality law enforcement officials lack the specific training needed to deal with this issue. They are not prepared to identify and investigate victims. “Policy, practice and research are not in place for human trafficking” (Roby, 2008). There needs to be a specific proactive and informed response for this issue. According to the Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, the biggest obstacle is getting state and local prosecutors to know what human trafficking is. The Department of Criminal Justice made a training program consisting of three goals: raising awareness of human trafficking, identifying and investigating suspected human trafficking cases, and gaining knowledge on human trafficking. The training program produced positive, but limited effects with regard to each of the goals (Renzetti, 2015). This training program proves it is difficult to standardize and enforce training that will be effective in decreasing human trafficking.

There are also a variety of situational factors that can influence the standardization of data collection and research. For example voluntary prostitution versus exploitive sex work, cross border or within border trafficking and the amount of knowledge or information a person had when they accepted the offer. “Many victims fear that when they are discovered they will be deported, not knowing their rights” (Roby, 2008). They generally distrust law enforcement officials since they know that their entry into the country is illegal, the nature of their work is illegal, and they may also not see themselves as a victim. Because of these reasons many are not identified and never afforded the opportunity to access services and escape from traffickers (Hodge, 2014). Identification is an essential first step in the process of healing and restoration of wellness. Some factors may be helpful in identifying a victim of human trafficking. For example, women without documentation, the constant presence of a controlling individual, and signs of physical abuse. If these signs are present there needs to be a policy in play for intervention and recovery. This is a long and complex process which starts with the needs for shelter, safety and medical care. If the United States is truly serious about abolishing the trade in human beings, it must provide protection for those who take the risk to come forward. “The public should help by bringing the potential victim's case to the attention of the law enforcement officials anonymously.

When there is a reasonable certainty that the case could go forward, and then law enforcement can become directly involved” (Roby, 2008). Social workers and medical practitioners should communicate acceptance, understanding and genuine concern. This may encourage victims to take on the risks and come forward more readily. If advocacy services improve, victims may be more willing to participate in the prosecution of the perpetrator and gain freedom for themselves. They need to be identified and reintegrated into the community, and there needs to be a support system to help them do this. Obviously, human trafficking is an issue that needs to be dealt with carefully and proactively. There are some resources for victims however these are limited. There is a National Human Trafficking Hotline that receives an average of 150 calls per day (“The Facts”, 2019). This represents the necessity of human trafficking policy and enforcement of the laws. So many lives could be saved if the US more actively reacts to the threat of international human trafficking. It is imperative that the United States Congress establish a clear policy of acknowledging and assisting victims if it is truly intending to abolish human trafficking, a modern day form of slavery (Roby, 2008). The US has an obligation to the global 25 million humans treated as modern day slaves that as a country we can not ignore.

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