Dept of Justice Looks Back on 10 Years of TVPA

The TVPA (Trafficking Victims Protection Act) has been called the most important anti-human trafficking legislation ever passed. It was signed into law in 2000 (the same year that Free the Slaves was founded), to comprehensively protect and rehabilitate victims of modern day slavery—and prosecute perpetrators of the crime.

2010 marks the TVPA’s tenth birthday. Last Friday, the Department of Justice held an event to commemorate its passage. Federal staffers, policy makers and NGO representatives filled the Great Hall of the Department of Justice, where several attorneys stood up and reflected on a decade’s worth of accomplishments, working with the TVPA. Over a hundred people were there to celebrate the milestone legislation, which put the U.S. fight against modern day slavery on the map.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. said the TVPA was a “great source of pride” that can allow all people to live with “the dignity every human deserves.” But, he added, there is “still much more work to be done.” Holder said the Department of Justice is taking new steps to increase collaboration between law enforcement, NGOs and lawmakers.

The attorneys giving remarks looked back at some of the most significant human trafficking cases from the past decade—from garment industry slavery, to sex trafficking. The prosecution of traffickers was discussed, but it was the stories of survivors that took center stage.

Hilary Axam from the Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit read from slave narratives, while on the screen to her right, photographs of brothels where women were held in slavery were shown. Steven M. Dettelbach, U.S. Attorney from the Northern District of Ohio said that prosecutors love human trafficking cases because it gives them a chance to help victims. He said the fight against human trafficking is to make good on the illegality of slavery in the United States.

Dettelbach was lead prosecutor in the landmark El Monte, California, sweatshop case of 1995, in which 72 Thai garment workers were enslaved behind barbed wire in an apartment complex on the outskirts of Los Angeles. It is considered one of the first major cases of modern day slavery in the U.S.

At first, Dettelbach says, the victims were fearful of him. “Those women did not trust us,” he said. “They had never been treated well by any authority figure in their adult lives.” The proudest moment of his career came at the conclusion of the case, when the Thai women bowed to his team of prosecutors in respect—this time, with trust.

Dettelbach concluded the commemoration with the following quote from the 13th Amendment: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist in the United States.”

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