Currently more than 12 million people around the world are enslaved. Of those, about 9.8 million are victims of sex trafficking, while others are involved in agricultural work, mining, or labor in small factories. This modern slavery unravels economies, incites violence, infringes upon families, undermines the notion of an individual’s inalienable rights, weakens public health, affronts the value of human life, and is one of the fastest growing criminal industries. This debasement to humanity is a worldwide, $32 billion industry and remains prevalent in 177 countries.
Despite numerous organizations, existing international partnerships, and legislation that targets the cessation of human trafficking, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center states that there are approximately 800,000 to 4 million men, women, and children transported across international borders and coerced into labor annually. The time has come to actively work to eradicate this repulsive crime. President Barack Obama emphasizes that human trafficking “ought to concern every person, because it is a debasement of our common humanity. It ought to concern every community, because it tears at our social fabric. It ought to concern every business, because it distorts markets. It ought to concern every nation, because it endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime.”
Despite various legislative measures taken by the U.S. and other nations to combat trafficking in persons, modern slavery is still a prevalent commercial enterprise that destroys countless lives. UNICEF reported that of the estimated 12 million current victims of human trafficking, 2 million are children subjected to forced prostitution in the international commercial sex industry, which leads to long-lasting psychological trauma, disease, drug addiction, unintended pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism, and death. As of 2013, only 116 countries of the 177 countries with human trafficking have passed some form of legislation that prohibits all forms of coerced labor. Despite positive efforts and current prohibitive legal measures, modern slavery remains ubiquitous.
An increasing awareness of the continual growth in the sex trafficking industry led the U.S. to enact the Trafficking Victims Protection Act on October 28, 2000. The primary goal of this act was to domestically combat human trafficking by granting the U.S. the power to prosecute human traffickers. Although the act’s main focus centers on sex trafficking, it also includes specific measures for the prohibition of the recruitment of child soldiers and the overall transport of any human trafficking victims. The TVPA differentiates sex trafficking from other forms of forced labor, and redefines it as “a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.”
Actions legalized by the TVPA are coordinated and implemented by the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which together rescue victims upon identification so they can become certified and eligible for federal funding and rehabilitation programs. This certification enables victims to receive assistance in searching for a job from the U.S. Department of Labor and renders them eligible to receive psychological counseling provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The TVPA also requires the U.S. State Department to issue yearly Trafficking in Persons Reports to document the change in human trafficking rates over a period of years.
The original TVPA has been reauthorized and amended by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003, 2005, and 2008. As of 2013, the TVPA has not been reauthorized to receive the necessary funding. These funds are not only required for the act’s legal enforcement, but also for government sponsored programs and administered grants that provide aid to victims. According to a report by the U.S. Department of State, this federal assistance “includes temporary housing, independent living skills, cultural orientation, transportation needs, job training, mental health counseling, and legal assistance.”
The enactment of the TVPA of 2000 has raised public awareness, increased international government cooperation, and made a significant difference in the number of those enslaved. The number of those combined foreign and domestic victims of human trafficking within the U.S. who have received certification and eligibility letters has progressively increased almost each year after 2004, and continues to do so. If the TVPA is not reauthorized and reinforced immediately, the condition of human trafficking activity rates will either remain somewhat stagnant or increase.
In order to effectively combat trafficking in persons and successfully enforce future security both domestically and internationally, it is necessary to prosecute traffickers and rehabilitate victims. According to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Department of State, this can be achieved through the prevention of further forced labor, the protection of victims, and the prosecution of human traffickers. To do this, the TVPA must be reauthorized immediately because it provides critical tools and resources needed to achieve the cessation of modern slavery. Increased funding is also needed and should be directed towards anti-trafficking programs and concentrate on other methods of eradicating the rampant global sex trade. Additionally, an increase in law enforcement institutions should potentially serve as a major deterrent to human traffickers.
The U.S. can also increase its subsidies and partnerships with nongovernmental organizations and other countries willing to implement similar preventative legislation. Cooperation between various foreign law enforcement agencies will further strengthen the movement to end human trafficking, in turn increasing international public awareness. Moreover, certain anti-trafficking coalitions and nongovernmental organizations—like Amnesty International, the Alliance to End Human Trafficking, World Vision, and the Polaris Project—can increase public awareness via public service announcements, newsletters, petitions, and other methods of communication, which will potentially increase public funding towards further education and will lead to opening shelters and recovery centers for those exploited. The U.S. should embrace an approach to combat forced prostitution and other types of coerced labor by providing fiscal incentives or building alliances to convince other nations to pass similar legislation that aims to eliminate human trafficking. To successfully eliminate sex trafficking domestically and internationally, the U.S. must aim to increase awareness, action, and funding, primarily through the reauthorization of the TVPA.
As former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice once said, “All nations that are resolute in the fight to end human trafficking have a partner in the United States. Together we will continue to affirm that no human life can be devalued or discounted. Together we will stop at nothing to end the debasement of our fellow men and women. And together we will bring forth a world of fuller hope, a world where people enjoy the full blessings of their God-given liberty.”