The U.S. must help “pull together the world” to end human trafficking (modern-day slavery), emphasized Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Wednesday.
Corker, the committee chair, opened with remarks about meeting with students from three Tennessee universities to discuss human trafficking (modern-day slavery), including Belmont University, a Baptist-affiliated school.
“I haven’t seen an issue that touches young people like this issue,” he said. “They are moved when they understand that there are 27 million people in the world today that are in slavery, that 26 percent of those people are in sexual servitude and they want to do something about it.”
Providing testimony during the hearing were Cindy McCain, co-chair of The McCain Institute’s Human Trafficking Advisory Council; Maurice Middleberg, executive director of Free the Slaves, an international anti-trafficking organization; Evelyn Chumbow, a trafficking survivor and member of the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking; and Leah, a survivor of trafficking and advocate for anti-trafficking nonprofit A-21.
McCain called trafficking “a pervasive problem” and “an insidious, horrible and underreported crime” that takes place in every U.S. state and every global nation.
Precise data is difficult to obtain, she noted, but “an alarmingly high percentage of children passing through [U.S.] child welfare and foster care systems have been trafficked.” Globally, trafficking is an estimated $150 billion per year industry.
McCain praised the 61 nations that have enacted laws criminalizing trafficking, emphasized the importance of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like THORN that work to address the “pervasive use of the Internet to buy and sell human beings for sex,” and noted that traffickers were exploiting refugees fleeing violence.
Middleberg gave thanks for the growing global awareness of modern-day slavery and explained three methods for addressing it – supply chain, criminal justice and community-based initiatives.
A supply chain focus seeks “to choke off the demand for slavery-tainted goods” through a “name and shame” approach designed to compel businesses to increase oversight. The Associated Press investigation of slavery within the fishing industry was cited as an example.
Criminal justice methods work to increase the risks and punishments for traffickers by implementing “swift, certain and severe punishment.” Currently, he said, “the risks to slaveholders and traffickers are negligible while the rewards are high.”
A community-based approach works directly with those most vulnerable to trafficking – rural, impoverished communities made up of “stigmatized and marginalized groups” who lack awareness of legal rights and lack basic social services.
Despite a growing awareness of trafficking and proven anti-trafficking methods, “the anti-slavery movement is fighting a raging elephant with a popgun,” he said, emphasizing the necessity of a more substantial response from the U.S. government.
Chumbow and Leah, both trafficking victims, shared their experience with the committee.
Chumbow was taken from Cameroon to Silver Spring, Maryland, at age 10 after a trafficker convinced her parents she would receive a better education in the U.S.
Upon arrival, she was not allowed to go to school but was forced to do housework and care for her captor’s children. She was beaten and forced to sleep on the floor. At 17, she ran away and eventually found help from a local Catholic priest who put her in contact with Catholic Charities.
Leah was a U.S. teenager “from a loving Christian family” with “lots of close friends” who became addicted to drugs and “the one person I thought was helping me break free of my addiction was in fact a trafficker of young women for the sex trade.”
Along with several other girls, Leah was sold for sex in nine states during a seven-year period. Eventually, she escaped her enslavement and received help from A-21.
Leah emphasized that trafficking “does exist and not only in third-world countries. It is a way of life for criminals in the heartland of America.”
She added, “Now that we know the truth about human trafficking, we cannot turn our backs and pretend that this problem does not exist.”