Standing Up to Human Trafficking
Between 1861 and 1865, the United States fought a brutal war that divided the nation. By the war’s conclusion, the Union had been preserved and slavery officially ended. Yet more than 150 years later, the nation is still fighting slavery, albeit in a different form: human trafficking. AAUW strongly supports efforts to combat trafficking, a position formally adopted as part of our public policy agenda by AAUW members in 2011.
Human trafficking, which President Obama said “must be called by its true name — modern slavery,” is a criminal activity that forces individuals into prostitution or involuntary labor. On Wednesday, government officials, academic and business leaders, and an Academy Award-winning actress came together to discuss the fight against modern-day slavery.
Hosted by Georgetown University and Deloitte Consulting LLP, the Anti-Human Trafficking Symposium: Transforming the Coalition included keynote addresses from Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) John Morton and actress Mira Sorvino, who is a U.N. goodwill ambassador.
“It’s fitting for us to meet during National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month,” said Morton. “The grim reality is that human trafficking and sexual exploitation are a very real part of the modern world … To defeat human trafficking we must attack it relentlessly.”
According to a 2007 U.S. State Department report, 80 percent of transnational victims are women and girls. Because the majority of victims are female, Morton stressed the need to educate girls about the dangers of trafficking. Education can help at-risk girls become less vulnerable to offenders.
Morton also discussed ICE’s victim-centered investigation approach. Based on gaining victims’ trust and reducing intimidation from their offenders, the approach considers recovering victims to be as important as prosecuting offenders.
Sorvino echoed the importance of helping victims. She told the true story of a young boy and girl from the Philippines who were lured to the United States by the promise of work. The woman who recruited the children told them to take taekwondo classes for a month before leaving home so that they could come into the country on athletic visas. After securing visas at the border with their transporter (the taekwondo trainer), the children began work at an assisted living facility in Long Beach, California. They worked nearly nonstop without pay until a neighbor tipped off the FBI, who ultimately rescued the children from the woman’s control. Saving these and other children from sex slavery and forced labor motivates Sorvino to lobby Congress and state legislatures to pass laws preventing human trafficking within our borders.
Noting the ease with which the children in Sorvino’s story secured visas, the speakers also discussed the importance of comprehensive immigration reform. Morton said that current laws must be overhauled and rewritten to help protect illegal immigrants from exploitation. He and other symposium speakers agreed that in order to combat human trafficking, partnerships between federal and nongovernmental organizations, both in the United States and internationally, are vital.
“I think we will all agree that human trafficking provokes our justifiable and righteous anger,” said Morton. “Let’s bring our outrage to the offense.”
Bethany Imondi’s participation in the SAC is sponsored by Dagmar E. McGill in memory of Happy Fernandez and Helen F. Faust.