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FTS Executive Director Maurice I. Middleberg

Dear Friends,

I recently completed my first 100 days as executive director of Free the Slaves.

During my first weeks on the job, I spent most of my time reaching out to stakeholders: staff, board members, donors, peer organizations, policy makers and other FTS friends.

These conversations have helped me develop a portrait of Free the Slaves that I want to share with you. I hope to engage you in an ongoing conversation about how to help FTS flourish.

Think of Free the Slaves as a triangle, the three sides being field programs, thought leadership and advocacy.

Field Programs: Our field programs in Brazil, Congo, Ghana, Haiti, India and Nepal are the frontline. Here, we work to prevent slavery, rescue the enslaved, help freed slaves rejoin families and communities, and promote the prosecution of slaveholders and traffickers. In all our programs we work with and through local organizations, building their long-term capacity to fight slavery. Through our programs, we are educating vulnerable populations about their rights, as well as how to resist the schemes and blandishments of traffickers and slaveholders. We are catalyzing collective action by communities to resist slavery and rescue those enslaved. And we are encouraging local authorities to implement the laws that reduce vulnerability to slavery and punish criminals.

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Activist with FTS frontline partner group MSEMVS educates Indian villagers about their rights. | Photo: FTS/FitzPatrick

I have seen the power of our field programs: mothers and children reunited, men freed from bondage, entire communities slavery-free and slavery-resistant, local officials alerted and mobilized.

In 2012, we helped free more than 1,750 slaves, reached almost 700 communities, educated more than 14,000 villagers in our slavery prevention program and trained more than 1,500 government officials on how to more effectively combat slavery. In addition, our work led to the arrest of 123 alleged traffickers. I am proud of the fact that Free the Slaves is a global leader in implementing grassroots programs against slavery.

The challenge we face is one of scale. We are helping scores of thousands whereas the need is in the millions. We need to expand in the countries in which we currently operate and open new fronts in the fight against slavery. This will require a qualitative leap in resources from our supporters and new strategies that expand programs at successively lower cost.

Thought Leadership: Our field programs are fueling learning. With 13 years of experience, FTS has built an impressive body of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t in the fight against slavery. For example, we have developed great models for training partners, educating communities and mobilizing protection committees at the village level. We are preparing to share those lessons as part of our contribution to the global anti-slavery movement.

Measuring change in the magnitude of slavery remains very challenging for the anti-slavery movement. Slavery and trafficking are criminal enterprises where the perpetrators do their best to remain in the shadows. FTS is launching efforts to pioneer new and better ways to assess progress at the local level.

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Nepali activists with FTS frontline partner group WOSCC brief Maurice on local anti-slavery strategy. | Photo: FTS/McClure

Advocacy: Learning from our field programs provides the basis for evidence-based advocacy. Free the Slaves is very well positioned to be an advocate for vigorous government action because we bring experience to the table. Appropriate — and vigorously implemented — laws and regulations, as well as adequate government funding, are essential to combating slavery.

FTS has joined with other organizations in the field and in the U.S. to urge policy makers to adopt good policies and provide sufficient funding. Recently, we played a critical role in the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the law that underlies the U.S. government’s programs against slavery.

The next challenge for advocates is securing adequate funding. The resources currently being invested in combating slavery are paltry. Rhetoric is not enough.  Accountability is needed. Free the Slaves will shoulder its part of the campaign for resources and accountability.

Field programs, thought leadership and advocacy: These are the pillars of the Free the Slaves strategy to eradicate slavery. In the months to come, I will share via this blog our successes and challenges – and how our supporters can help.

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President Obama signs TVPA | Photo: Marina Colby, ECPAT USA

President Obama put his signature Thursday onto the cornerstone legislation that guides the federal government’s anti-slavery activities.

Reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was included in the renewed Violence Against Women Act. The combined bill passed Congress with bipartisan support in February. The bill signing was attended by hundreds of activists, government officials and tribal leaders.

“Today is about young women like Tye, who was brought into the sex trade by a neighbor when she was 12 years old,” the president said in remarks prepared for the bill signing. “

“Tye was rescued with the help of an organization led by trafficking survivors. Today, she’s enrolled in college. She’s working full-time to help at-risk girls stay out of the sex trade. Couldn’t be prouder of her. So proud of her,” Obama said. “So with this bill, we reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to help more girls turn out like Tye. That’s what today is all about.”

The president’s signature on the TVPA ends a multiyear struggle to win reauthorization for the law. It is now in force until 2017, according to the White House. But it’s important to note that a blueprint for action is not a budget. The anti-slavery movement will need to mobilize again when it comes time for federal appropriations.

Please stay tuned. We will likely need you to call, tweet, Facebook and e-mail your Congressional representatives again. Your involvement has made this happen. Thanks for your support.

And thanks to Marina Colby of ECPAT USA for sharing her personal photo of the bill signing!

tvpa house passage screen captureThere is terrific news to report today.

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA or S.47), which includes the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA or Title XII of S.47).

The House vote was 286 in favor to 138 opposed, showing strong bipartisan support for keeping the federal government’s anti-slavery efforts on track.

The Senate passed the bill earlier this month. It now goes to President Obama, who has indicated he will sign it.

“We strongly applaud the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act by the House and Senate,” says Free the Slaves Executive Director Maurice I. Middleberg. “This legislation is the cornerstone of the American effort to combat the horrors of human slavery and trafficking.”

FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg

FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg

“This action by the Congress and the president’s signature will send a strong message to people in slavery that help is on the way. It restores America’s reputation as a world leader in combating human trafficking at home and abroad,” Middleberg says.

The TVPA was first passed in 2000 to authorize a wide range of federal action to combat slavery at home and abroad — from prosecuting traffickers, to providing shelter for slavery survivors, to preventing vulnerable people from enslavement in the first place. It must be reauthorized every few years.

The bill had lapsed during the 112th Congress, which adjourned in January. Winning reauthorization for the law in the current 113th Congress has been a top priority for Free the Slaves and other organizations that are members of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST).

ATEST logoAdvocacy efforts behind the scenes by ATEST and its member organizations — and an overwhelming display of grassroots support for the TVPRA from people who contacted their congressional representatives this month — were critical.

Members of Congress responded. They attached the TVPRA to VAWA, and then shepherded the combined bill to final approval. Combining the two made sense — many of the factors that spark violence against women also lead to trafficking and modern-day slavery.

“This is an important step toward freedom for the millions of women, men and children around the globe who are trafficked into forced labor and sex slavery each year,” says David Abramowitz, director of ATEST and vice president for policy & government relations, Humanity United.

Thanks to all who took a stand by taking action!

Momentum is building to win House approval for reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Our Capitol Hill advocates expect that today will be critical.

They need your help. The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) has been combined with the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The combined law has already been passed by the Senate, and President Obama has indicated he will sign it.

The last step is the House. There is a “substitute amendment” that will come up for a vote first. The anti-slavery movement wants the House to vote NO.

Then, the Senate-passed version of the combined bill will come to a vote. The anti-slavery movement wants the House to vote YES.

If you haven’t reached out to your House of Representatives member, there is still time to do so this morning. Call, e-mail, Tweet or Facebook them now!  Calling is best, and here’s what to say:

Hello. My name is ________. I am a constituent from __________.

I am calling to urge Representative _______________ to vote NO on the Substitute Amendment to S. 47, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act and YES on the final passage of S. 47.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) expired in September 2011 and unless it is renewed, critical federal programs and the victims they support will be at risk. The S. 47 Substitute Amendment does not include the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), which was included in S. 47 as passed by the Senate.

Reauthorization of the TVPA must be a national priority. Therefore, I am asking Representative ________ to vote NO on the Substitute Amendment to S.47 and YES on the final passage of S.47.

You can find the contact information for your House member on the upper right corner of the House of Representatives website.

Thanks for taking action.

capitol rotunda inside architect of capitolThe U.S. Senate has reauthorized the cornerstone legislation that guides the federal government’s efforts to combat human trafficking and modern-day slavery.

Reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. It happened on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, no less.

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) proposed that the TVPA be attached as an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act yesterday morning. Senators approved Leahy’s amendment by a vote of 93 to 5. A short while later, the Senate approved the combined bill with another strong bipartisan vote.

“We’re delighted that the TVPA and Violence Against Women Act could pass the Senate together, because gender-based violence and modern-day slavery are often closely related,” says FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg.

“Reauthorizing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) sends important signals worldwide. It says that the United States is still committed to ending human trafficking at home and abroad. It tells those in slavery that they have a partner in the American government and the American people. It tells traffickers that we haven’t lost our resolve,” Middleberg says.

Senate approval came after a rapid and comprehensive mobilization of anti-trafficking supporters throughout the country. Many organizations, including Free the Slaves, sent action alerts to get supporters to phone, e-mail, tweet and petition their senators.

Senator Patrick Leahy

Senator Patrick Leahy

It worked. Thousands of people signed a petition or contacted their senators to let them know that fighting slavery is important to voters. Senator Leahy helped marshal Democratic support.

“Today is February 12, the day on which Abraham Lincoln was born,” Leahy said in a public statement. “It was 150 years ago that he delivered the Emancipation Proclamation and it would be fitting that the Senate pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act on his birthday.  Although the 13th amendment to our Constitution was ratified long ago making slavery illegal, we continue to fight human trafficking,” he wrote.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) helped rally Republican votes.

“We applaud Senators Leahy and Rubio for their bipartisan leadership and commitment to ending modern-day slavery,” says David Abramowitz, Director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking ATEST and Vice President for Policy & Government Relations of Humanity United.

“We urge the House of Representatives to show similar bipartisan cooperation to move a bill quickly to a vote and onto President Obama’s desk,” Abramowitz says.

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Senator Marco Rubio

The president has indicated he will sign the bill.

The TVPA was first passed in 2000 to authorize a wide range of federal action to combat slavery at home and abroad — from prosecuting traffickers, to providing shelter for slavery survivors, to preventing vulnerable people from enslavement in the first place.

It must be reauthorized every few years.

Now, it’s onto the House. Free the Slaves will need to demonstrate public support for the bill to House members, just as we did in the Senate.

Thanks to everyone who helped move TVPA through the Senate.

Stay tuned – we’ll let you know when it’s time to mobilize again for final passage in the House.