Combating Human Trafficking in the United States

Human Trafficking is a form of modern day slavery. Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, and/or coercion for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor and, under federal and state law, does not require movement of people across borders.

It is believed there are currently 27 million slaves worldwide. The U.S. State Department estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 people are victims of human trafficking in the U.S. annually, 100,000-300,000 of which are children.   

Human trafficking is a hidden crime that is seriously underreported. Within the U.S., both citizens and foreign nationals – women, men, teenagers, and children – can fall prey to traffickers who may threaten their lives and those of their families, isolate victims, and make it impossible for them to escape. According to federal law, human trafficking includes sex and labor trafficking.

  • Sex Trafficking – Victims of sex trafficking can be found working in massage parlors, brothels, strip clubs, and escort services. They can be found through the internet and on the street. They are often lured by false promises and ultimately forced into prostitution. Not all of those engaged in sex work are trafficked, but many are.
  • Labor Trafficking – Victims of labor trafficking can be found in many types of domestic and non-domestic situations. They work as nannies and maids, in sweatshops, janitorial jobs, restaurants, hair and nail salons, in street sales and on construction sites and farms. The victims are trapped into a cycle of involuntary servitude, debt bondage, and slavery.
  • Minors – More than 50% of victims worldwide are estimated to be under the age of 18. Under U.S. law any person under 18 involved in the commercial sex industry is considered a human trafficking victim.  Minors are usually the victims of domestic sex trafficking within the U.S. Investigations conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice have revealed that at least 100,000 American children are exploited through prostitution every year.  Commercial sexual exploitation affects females and males of all ethnicities and demographics, especially within vulnerable populations such as those in the foster care system, runaways, and immigrants. Most victims of sex trafficking are female, and the average age at which a minor is trafficked is 13 years old. Children are also found as victims of labor trafficking.

In 2000, the 106th Congress passed the first comprehensive federal law addressing human trafficking – the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) – that required the U.S.  Department of State to release an annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report to monitor trafficking globally among other critical measures in the bill. The TVPA has been reauthorized many times, last in 2013, with many meaningful improvements including a 2003 provision that urged states to set up systems to combat trafficking for the first time within U.S. borders.

A growing understanding of the nature of trafficking in persons has led to new innovations in addressing demand. Corporate standards for monitoring supply chains and government policies for eliminating trafficking from procurement practices are making new inroads in the fight against modern slavery. But the fact remains: if there were no demand for commercial sex, trafficking in persons for commercial sexual exploitation would not exist in the form it does today. This reality underscores the need for continued strong efforts to reduce demand for sex trafficking by enacting policies and promoting cultural attitudes that reject the idea of paying for sex.

President Obama has made the fight to end modern day slavery a priority of his administration. Indeed, he directed the White House Advisory Council on Faith-based and Community Partnerships to focus on ending human trafficking. And, the President created the Interagency Taskforce to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking to ensure the federal government’s response to human trafficking is coordinated and effective as outlined in the report of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Building Partnerships to Eradicate Modern-day Slavery.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs believes that:

  • The Jewish community has a moral and ethical responsibility to combat modern day slavery in the U.S. and around the world and has a strong record of working for a commitment to human rights.
  • Comprehensive action is needed to create a grassroots movement within the U.S. at the local, state, and national levels to end modern day slavery.
  • Laws, regulations, and enforcement must be strengthened at all levels of government to deter and combat human trafficking; facilitate the rescuing of survivors; and ensure prosecution of perpetrators and users of slaves.
  • The Jewish community should lead in working with faith communities, ethnic and community based organizations, health professionals, service providers, educators and other stakeholders to create an abolitionist movement against slavery.
  • Large sporting events are associated with an increase in trafficking and therefore efforts and opportunities to deter the demand and educate the community should be heightened in preparation for these events.
  • Businesses and not- for- profit organizations should participate in the fair-trade movement and ensure that policies and protocols are in place so the products we purchase are not made by slave labor.

The community relations field should:

  • Establish and convene a national coalition and statewide coalitions made up of interfaith, inter-ethnic, community based, educational organizations, health providers and others to create an abolitionist movement against modern day slavery. The Coalition would advocate, educate, and share resources to combat human trafficking.
  • Advocate for:
    • Implementation of the recommendations of the White House Advisory Council on Faith-based and Community Partnerships
    • Passage and full funding of national legislation to address human trafficking in the U.S. and abroad
    • Encourage Businesses to sign ECPAT-USA’s Code of Conduct – the travel and tourism industries child protection code of conduct – and encourage those in the travel and tourism industry to set protocols in place. Encourage businesses across the board to initiate similar code of conducts
    • Formation of statewide coalitions where they are not already in place focused on trafficking awareness, education, and advocacy.
    • Passage and implementation of state and local human trafficking prevention, protection, and treatment laws that provide:
  1. consequences to those benefitting from slaves, including those using the services and the perpetrators; and
  2. restitution and rehabilitation for survivors.
    • Coordination among law enforcement at both the federal and state levels; Attorney Generals to issue directives and train local law enforcement in identifying and responding to human trafficking accusations and in providing support to survivors; and separate trafficking courts in the states with trained judges, attorneys, and law enforcement.
    • Local businesses, television stations, law enforcement, educators, and all first responders to publicize the national hotline number.
    • Shelters and safe houses in communities for victims of trafficking.
    • Education in elementary, middle and high schools to raise awareness about human trafficking.