The United States led the world in the fight against human trafficking.
But that was 20 years ago.
In 2000, the United States Congress passed the bipartisan-supported Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) – the global gold standard for legislation that defined human trafficking, provided funds for victim services and ensured severe penalties for traffickers.
The U.S. Department of State created a special office – the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons – to lead the efforts of the U.S. and the world.
The TVPA mandated that a report be created by the State Department each year to evaluate the effort of each country in the world, based on their laws and the enforcement of them.
The annual Trafficking in Persons Report is a valuable resource used by nonprofits and governments around the world.
Fast forward to January 2020. The U.S. president proudly announces the creation of a new position within the executive office of the president focused on human trafficking (which, as of this writing, has still not been filled) at a press conference.
Well-respected human trafficking survivors and nonprofit leaders refused to attend in protest of the administration’s policies that harm human trafficking victims.
Nicholas Kristoff, in a Feb. 26, 2020, column in The New York Times, shared comments about President Trump’s action from Rachel Lloyd, a trafficking victim who now helps young girls who have been trafficked through Girls Educational and Mentoring Service (GEMS).
“Lloyd said that when she realized the administration was only engaged in a PR effort, she turned down a position on an administration advisory panel and declined a $10,000 donation from Ivanka Trump for GEMS,” Kristoff wrote. “‘Why would we give them cover and validation?’ asked Lloyd, whose memoir, Girls Like Us, is one of the best books on trafficking.”
Kristoff also quoted Martin Vandenberg, president of the Human Trafficking Legal Center in Washington, who stated, “Over the last three years, we have watched with horror as the administration has dismantled protections for trafficking survivors.”
These statements provided a stark contrast to a declaration from Trump, also cited by Kristoff, “My administration is putting unprecedented pressure on traffickers at home and abroad … My administration is fighting these monsters, persecuting and prosecuting them, and locking them away for a very, very long time. We’ve had a tremendous track record – the best track record in a long time.”
Let’s look at the track record.
The 2020 Trafficking in Persons report states the U.S. Department of Justice “prosecuted fewer cases and secured convictions against fewer traffickers for the second year in a row, issued fewer victims trafficking-specific immigration benefits and did not adequately screen vulnerable populations for human trafficking indicators.
“Anti-trafficking advocates reported a continued lack of sustained effort to address labor trafficking, increased obstacles for foreign nationals to secure victim protections and a systemic inability to prevent traffickers from using employment-based and other nonimmigrant visa programs.”
As mentioned in the TIP report, the U.S. has many policies that are specifically harmful to trafficking victims from other countries who were trafficked into the U.S. or trafficked once they arrived.
The TVPA was created to protect these victims, but current policies are undercutting the original intentions.
For example, a special visa called the T visa was created by the TVPA to protect trafficking victims.
Foreign trafficking victims can apply for this T visa, which if granted, allows them to stay in the country legally and to work, while they assist law enforcement in building a case against the trafficker.
According to the State Department’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons report, “the number of victims granted T visas decreased by 13% and the government granted 25% fewer certification letters providing access to benefits and services to foreign national adult victims of trafficking.”
The report also stated that processing time for T visa applications has increased, which makes trafficking survivors more vulnerable to being retrafficked or deported.
The report continues, “Advocates continue to report trafficking victims were arrested at the state and local levels for the unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit, including selling commercial sex and drug trafficking.”
Service providers also report law enforcement officers threatening criminal charges against trafficking victims to compel them to cooperate in a case against their trafficker.
Even in some states with “safe harbor” laws, child victims of sex trafficking were arrested for prostitution.
To quote Kristoff once more, “The Human Trafficking Legal Center reports only 146 federal trafficking indictments in 2019, down from 204 in the last year of the Obama administration.”
None of this sounds like a country leading the world in the fight against human trafficking.
It sounds like a government that wants its people and the global community to think it’s concerned about human trafficking.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week for World Day Against Trafficking in Persons (July 30). The previous article is:
Slaves, Masters Still Exist in US Today | Nell Green
Founder of Eastern North Carolina Stop Human Trafficking Now. She is a member of Oakmont Baptist Church in Greenville, North Carolina.