US house logoThe House of Representatives approved a range of proposals Tuesday to combat sex slavery in the U.S., including training for police to recognize trafficking cases and treat victims appropriately, a ban on advertising sex for sale with children, and an initiative for sex slavery survivors to receive restitution from pimps.

“While an interest in human trafficking has long been a focus of conservatives, the issue has attracted significant bipartisan interest in recent months,” reports the New York Times. “Representative Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia and the House majority leader, held a news conference on Tuesday to push the legislation, an usual amount of attention for low-profile measures.”

Cantor has launched a webpage dedicated to modern-day slavery. “The scourge of human trafficking remains one of the most horrific crimes that plagues our world,” the webpage notes. House Republicans have also created a YouTube video called “Together, Let’s End Human Trafficking.”

“Measures to combat human trafficking were already listed as part of the House’s spring agenda, but they gained momentum amid reports of the abduction of Nigerian girls by extremist group Boko Haram,” reports The Hill.

Five bills passed the House with broad bipartisan support, along with a resolution condemning the Boko Haram kidnappings, according to CNN:

  • H.R. 4058: Requires states to identify and address sex trafficking of minors in foster care.
  • H.R. 4573: Directs the State Department to give “advance notice of intended travel” of those convicted of sex offenses against children and asks other nations to reciprocate.
  • H.R. 3530: Imposes additional financial penalties on sex traffickers and helps increase the amount of restitution victims could receive.
  • H.R. 3610: Encourages states to put in place laws that treat minors who have been sex trafficked as victims rather than criminals.
  • H.R. 4225: Makes it a federal crime to knowingly advertise for the commercial sexual exploitation of minors and trafficking victims.

The 2013 Walk Free Global Slavery Index estimates that there about 60,000 people in various forms of slavery inside the U.S. You can learn more about slavery in America in the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report.


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry | State Dept. Photo

Anticipation is building for the release of this year’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report from the U.S. State Department. The report has become an important diplomatic tool in the fight against modern-day slavery. Businesses also use the rankings to understand the risks of slavery connected to their supply chains. This year’s report will be the first for Secretary of State John Kerry and the Obama administration’s second term in office.

The annual TIP report is a global country-by-country evaluation of efforts to combat trafficking. Countries are graded on a scale from 1 to 3 (Tier 1 is the best, Tier 3 is the worst). Sanctions are possible for underperforming nations. A Tier 2 Watch List includes several countries who aren’t doing enough. By law, they must be demoted to Tier 3 if they don’t improve after two years on the watch list, although waivers of the sanctions are allowed.

The Tier 2 Watch List has caught the attention of several members of Congress. They recently wrote to Kerry, laying out their concern about countries lingering on the list.

“We wish to convey our concern about continued, severe trafficking issues in several countries that are on the Tier 2 Watch List, including China, Uzbekistan, Russia, Iraq, Republic of Congo, and Azerbaijan. These six countries have exhausted under U.S. law the time they can remain on the Tier 2 Watch List and must be elevated to Tier 2 or demoted to Tier 3 in the TIP report this year. We are confident you agree that the Watch List protocol was designed to offer countries a brief added opportunity to make needed changes and should never be used to push countries into a higher ranking than their records merit.” (Read the full letter here).

The letter was signed by 16 members of Congress: Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Rep. John Carter (R-TX), Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), Rep. Tim Griffin (R-AR), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA), Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL), Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), Rep. Randy Weber (R-TX), Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA).

FTS Director of Programs Karen Stauss says the TIP ranking system has to be “impartial.”

“The U.S. government uses it to target assistance to governments who’ve demonstrated the political will to make progress, but just lack the resources. In other words, places where we can get the most bang for our buck, and won’t be pouring money into a black hole of corruption.”

Stauss believes the 2013 TIP report will be a “moment of truth.”

“We need the U.S. government to keep the pressure on countries that haven’t made any genuine improvements. In other words, no ‘automatic upgrades’ for governments that are not making progress.”

The 2013 TIP report is tentatively scheduled for release in mid-June.

Hot off the presses: The 2011 TIP report!

The Trafficking in Persons report is the benchmark resource for the state of modern-day slavery and human trafficking in the world. Produced annually by the U.S. State Department, the report gives almost every country in the world a ranking, assessing how affective governments are at addressing modern slavery.

Last year was the first time the U.S. was included in the TIP report. (FYI: the U.S. was ranked Tier 1—the highest possible rating. This year, the U.S. is again ranked Tier 1.) Browse through the country narratives in the report at this link. And, stay tuned for Free the Slaves’ reaction to the 2011 TIP report!

In the meantime, check out the CNN Freedom Project’s report on this topic.

Shivanna (second from left) and his family were bonded laborers in India. But with the help of anti-slavery organization JEEVIKA, they are now free.

Washington, D.C.—At a hearing held by the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, the State Department’s anti-trafficking Ambassador Luis CdeBaca recommended that slavery eradication efforts take a more victim centered approach. Survivors of modern day slavery should not be treated like criminals, he said.

The hearing, titled “Out of the Shadows: The Global Fight Against Human Trafficking,” took a broad based look at human trafficking around the world and what was being done to combat it.

Slavery is often difficult to detect. And millions are vulnerable to it. Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) said there is only a “thin line between being short on your paycheck and being held bondage.”

Neha Misra of the Solidarity Center’s Migration and Human Trafficking program said media and policy focus on commercial sexual exploitation has caused enslaved laborers to be overlooked.

“In 2010, a slave is not necessarily a person in chains or shackles,” she said. “Modern day slavery can be much more subtle. Trafficking victims toil in factories that produce products that are exported to the U.S. [They] harvest vegetables and process food that ends up on our dining room tables,… pick crops or mine minerals that are raw materials in the products we buy.”

Asian countries and their Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report rankings were at the center of much of the discussion.

Representative Ed Royce (R-CA) showed his disappointment that Cambodia was moved up from Tier 3—the lowest possible ranking—to Tier 2, saying it was a “slap in the face to the thousands of victims” still enslaved. David S. Abramowitz, Director of Policy and Government Relations at Humanity United spoke about his work in Nepal, where 90 percent of migrant workers are trafficked into labor and sex slavery.

Read about Free the Slaves’ work in Nepal

Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) shared stories of North Korean defectors trafficked in China. He criticized China’s one child policy, saying it contributed to the trafficking of women into forced marriages. He pointed to an investigative article in The Economist titled “The War on Baby Girls” that said 100 million girls are missing, due to sex selective abortions in China and Northwestern India.

And yet, China and India are Tier 2 countries. Smith urged CdeBaca to re-assess these rankings, saying that neither country complies with the minimum standards prescribed by the Trafficking Victims Protections Act.

Read how 2010 Harriet Tubman Freedom Award winner, Kiran Kamal of the Indian anti-slavery organization JEEVIKA compares India’s bonded labor system to apartheid.

India’s caste system drives millions into slavery, said Dr. Beryl Ann D’Souza, Medical Director of the Dalit Freedom Network. “Of the 27 million people around the world that the UN considers human slaves in the trafficking industry, the UN recognizes that most live in India and most are Dalits,” she said. Dalits are the lowest level of India’s caste system. While slavery is illegal in India, centuries of social pressure keep many dalits in bonded labor.