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December 18, 2015

How to Dismantle the Business of Human Trafficking

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States. Yet in the world today there are an estimated 20.9 million people enslaved, and the United States is both a source and destination of victims. While the United States would have a moral responsibility to address this problem even without its history of slavery, its legacy heightens this imperative.

Contemporary slavery manifests in various ways. Many trafficking victims are forced to toil in fields, factories, and fishing boats for little or no pay. Others are held captive in private homes. Forced prostitution rings imprison women, girls, and boys in brothels or force them to work in the streets under threat of abuse. What links all these forms—as well as historic American slavery—is the profit motive. Human trafficking is a lucrative criminal enterprise, generating $150 billion annually in profits worldwide. The United States should seek to reduce substantially the number of victims by implementing policies and practices that dismantle the business of trafficking.

Since passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000—and its subsequent reauthorizations—the U.S. government has undertaken significant steps to build an anti-human trafficking infrastructure. Through annual publication of the Department of State’s (DOS) Trafficking in Persons report (TIP report), it has called worldwide attention to this blight. The DOS Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP) provides grants to U.S. and foreign institutions involved in prevention/awareness, protection/services, law enforcement/prosecution, research and data collection, and evaluation. J/TIP also coordinates U.S. agencies both at home and abroad, including agencies on the President’s Interagency Task Force (PITF).

Despite these efforts, human trafficking continues to be a horrific human rights problem both in the United States and around the world. The 2014 DOS TIP report used law enforcement data to determine that 44,738 survivors were reported globally in 2013 —a paltry figure considering the number of victims. It is clear that far more needs to be done.

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