Ongoing Fight Against Modern Slavery
Ambassador-at-Large, Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
I am delighted to be here at National Harbor with you during the National District Attorney Association’s National Conference of Child Abuse Professionals. National Harbor is such a beautiful place that if I had planned earlier, we would have sailed down from Washington. It is indeed a beautiful area.
I am here to talk about new ways of tackling an old crime. A crime from which we’ve largely hidden our gaze, even as we have been willing to confront once taboo issues of child abuse, domestic violence, and rape. A crime that has been euphemized in so many ways over the years – “peonage,” “servitude,” “human trafficking.” But no matter what we call it, what we are dealing with is modern slavery. That’s why it is fitting that this conference – this topic – is dealt with here, on land that was cleared and worked by people held in slavery. To free them took hundreds of years and millions of lives, placing us in debt. To deliver on a promise of freedom written in the blood of all who died in bondage.
The framers of the 13th Amendment realized that one could not end slavery merely by saying that it should be illegal and merely walking away, so in 1865 they wrote the Constitutional provision in a way that applies as much today as it did to those who suffered in the past.
In 2010, through its work on what we now call “human trafficking,” the Obama Administration is keeping the promise of the 13th Amendment, and I am going to put our activities in the context of your critical work against child abuse.
Sadly, slavery in America has always preyed on the most vulnerable people. Historically, it was people kidnapped from Africa and denied their legal person identity. But also Hispanics in the Southwest and African Americans in the South, held in debt bondage whether it was called peonage or sharecropping. Asian and European immigrants in the late 1800s, trapped in involuntary servitude through deception and false promises, often in high-volume brothels in which they were literally caged. Traffickers have an uncanny ability to find the most vulnerable, and exploit them in servitude.
And too often, both here and abroad, the most vulnerable are children: American children and foreign children alike. Offered for prostitution or preyed upon by those who they trust. And as you know, especially those of you who work with teenagers, some of these cases are very tough. They do not easily fit the stereotypes that would make this subject matter more comfortable.
It’s not the stereotype of the movie “Taken,” in which a privileged girl is flat-out kidnapped on a high-end vacation. Rather, we see immigrant kids who self-emancipated and emigrated hoping for a better life, or were lured here by men who claimed to love them. We see American girls with pimps who profess to give them a better life than the one they had at home.
And, when we find them, they don’t necessarily seem to want to be liberated. They may resist testifying against the person who we see as an abuser but who they might view with love or loyalty. And rather than showing appreciation for your help, they might respond by running off, self-medicating, or being “incorrigible.”
But we can’t give up. In the last decade, we have developed many new tools to help them, and to help you on the front lines.
The commitment that was made by the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations to fight this scourge is only intensifying. Since 2000 – when we modernized our federal anti-slavery statutes through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and achieved the adoption of an international anti-trafficking protocol at the United Nations – we have protected thousands of victims, prosecuted and jailed thousands of traffickers, and prevented this crime from occurring in the first place. Almost all states and territories have passed modern anti-trafficking laws, and training efforts are starting to pay off in arrests and prosecutions. Now almost all of these legal and policy tools helped drive these successes, we have more work ahead.
Each year, the State Department releases the Trafficking in Persons Report that provides a global assessment of the anti-trafficking efforts based on the minimum standards outlined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. This year, under the leadership of Secretary Clinton, the Report for the first time diagnosed the United States’ efforts to meet the minimum standards and provided recommendations to strengthen our efforts, here at home.
This diagnosis is not meant to be a rebuke of the good work people are doing in the field, but a roadmap to guide our efforts throughout the United States. Secretary Clinton is committed to implementing ‘lead by example’ form of diplomacy. We have seen the Report drive progress worldwide, and we are working to drive even more progress here at home.
I would like to share just a couple of key recommendations from the Report with you this morning. As stated in the Report, the United States should “increase government efforts to identify and assist U.S. victims.” While our victim assistance efforts have improved greatly in the last decade, we must ask ourselves: can we do more?
Are we utilizing every tool at our disposal to ensure that we are in fact identifying these victims, treating them as victims, and providing the necessary rehabilitative services? Are we responding effectively and providing a safety net for the most vulnerable in society? Are U.S. citizens in prostitution, whether they are children or adults, being seen merely as criminals in need of a police response, or are jurisdictions recognizing that they have needs for restorative care, housing and appropriate placement, and life options? Do our assistance programs recognize that the trauma does not necessarily stop once the trafficked person turns 18?
Are vulnerable populations being screened for whether there is trafficking occurring, as is outlined in the TVPA? If people fall through the cracks, are there ways that they can wipe the slate clean, whether through diversion or re-entry programs? Do child protection authorities understand what human trafficking is, and see children as victims as opposed to delinquents? Are we cutting off demand by teaching men and boys about the harm that prostituted women and girls experience and their needs?
There are questions that in the mid-1980s, in the Story County Attorney’s Office – advanced for its time – we wouldn’t have known to ask. Instead, we’d have done cases as part of vice enforcement, not asking about the women and girls’ lives. Cutting-edge meant using civil tools to seize brothels or take the earnings away from the pimps, not going that extra step recognizing victimization.
Experts in the field have shared that child protective services and at-risk youth programs are positioned to identify and assist child-trafficking victims, whether they are foreign or American, whether they are found in sex or labor trafficking. We know that juvenile justice systems can also be harnessed to identify and assist rather than detain. Some jurisdictions have created diversion programs so that children found in prostitution receive shelter and services as opposed to convictions and jail. “Safe haven” laws are beginning to be passed to decriminalize children found in prostitution.
Another key recommendation from the Report is to “enhance federal government partnerships with state, local, and tribal agencies.” We have seen the success of the Amber Alert system, which helps track and recover missing children across state lines and within our communities. Mirroring that system of information-sharing and coordinated communication is vital to bolstering our efforts to ensure that children are safe from abuse and exploitation. Existing efforts against commercial sexual exploitation of children, as well as broader child protection infrastructures, should be linked up with federally-funded task forces to fight human trafficking in all of its forms.
While we only have time for a couple of key recommendations this morning, I would encourage you to read the Report and all of the recommendations online at state.gov/g/tip. They are set forth under the operating principles of the “3P” approach: Protection, Prevention, and Prosecution.
Whether you are a local prosecutor, a victim-service provider, or work to prevent this crime, all of you here today represent one of those “3Ps” in your profession. Your work together creates what Secretary Clinton has labeled the “4th P”: partnerships. Strengthening our partnerships is vital to our overall coordinated, victim-centered approach against trafficking, especially in our efforts to protect the world’s children.
I have set forth very quickly, and I apologize for that, a lot of policy efforts to combat trafficking this morning. So often, policy stakeholders become engrossed in the policies of the anti-trafficking effort, and lose sight of the people who suffer from this horrible crime.
I am reminded of one girl, 14 years of age, in particular from my time as a prosecutor, who was lured into prostitution by a man who spoke of love, glamour, and money. Held in service by other women whose loyalty wasn’t to each other, but to the pimp who controlled them, she was forced to “serve” client after client after client. I remember the shocking juxtaposition of the stuffed animals, the backpack with flowers, the notebook where she had to keep a log of clients and money earned, decorated with the hearts and flowers that a child would draw. But I also remember her once she got help, once she came to realize that she could trust us. Her backpack was then filled with magazines about movie stars and singers. She was like any other 14 year-old – grasping at adulthood but alternating between bravado and nervousness. Now her traffickers are in prison, and she is on a bright path. But that path will only be bright if she gets the support and services that the law promises. There is success when there is support.
I have been lucky to witness the transformation of victims to survivors. They can lead a life of their choosing. Some chose well, and some choose poorly, but it is their freedom for which we fight. This is the promise that this country made almost 150 years ago – the promise of liberty.
You continue this work today. In this room alone, you represent the best child protection professionals, law enforcement, and attorneys in the United States. I have seen how promising practices here at home become the international standard to which other countries aspire, which is why I challenge all of you to join us in spreading some core messages and practices about this ongoing fight:
- First, that we are here to assist all trafficked persons whom we encounter, be they U.S. Citizens or foreign-born; whether they are held in bondage for labor or for sex;
- That we will coordinate with the federal effort at the state and local level as well;
- That we will overcome barriers to identification and services, continuing a victim-centered approach and focusing our efforts on vulnerable populations, especially children;
- And that we keep our doors open to continue the discussion, even among groups who choose to work on varying aspects of the fight.
As we set forth to achieve these goals, let us not forget the children we have yet to encounter: the young girl being turned out in a truck stop or a brothel; the boy on the streets caught up in a begging or prostitution ring; the kids working in the fields; the child domestic servant who never gets to leave the house, and lives in the fear of the knock on the door at night.
It is for each of these children that we have to act with fierce urgency. It is for them that we should dare to pledge that every single child alive today can succeed, will succeed, in a world that sadly does not yet exist: a world without slavery.