Thursday, December 31, 2009

Human Trafficking: 2009 In Review

2009 has been an active year in the field of counter-trafficking: from new leaders to new reports to new civic and cultural engagement, we can only hope that 2010 shows even more promise for greater stakeholder collaboration and greater awareness so that fewer and fewer people are victimized. The HTP team wanted to highlight some of the efforts that we feel were personally important to the fight to end modern day slavery:

Jennifer K: Texas continued to lead in state action to fight slavery. In August, Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill (HB) 4009, establishing a human trafficking taskforce in the Attorney General's Office. According to a press release from Gov. Perry, the taskforce "will develop policies and procedures for the prevention and prosecution of human trafficking crimes." As reported in this blog, the bill also provides grant funding to assist trafficking victims, including specific provisions for domestic victims who currently are not covered under federal legislation.

Anti-trafficking efforts received another greatly needed
financial boost near the end of 2009, when the House and Senate passed an omnibus appropriations bill that will fund a variety of anti-trafficking initiatives. According to Polaris Project, this development was particularly exciting since for "first time since the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was passed in 2000, the spending bill provides that this funding is available for both foreign national and U.S. citizen survivors in need of assistance."

Justin: Slumdog Millionaire won eight Academy Awards in 2009, the most for any film of 2008, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Grossing over $377 million worldwide, Slumdog also featured human trafficking, in the form of forced sex work and begging rings, as a constant risk underlying the daily existence of street children in India. What I particularly appreciated about the movie's presentation of trafficking is that it was not employed simply as a gimmicky plot device to progress the story, but is a real, pressing issue in India that was portrayed graphically and painfully at times but in my opinion did a good job of conveying the brutality and prevalence of trafficking while shying away from a more Hollywood-ized version of the issue. Although there was a fairytale ending for the protagonist, the scope of the issue presented via glimpses from the numerous other minor characters who were unable to escape reflects a sober reality of trafficking in India and beyond.

Our hats off to Mr. Boyle and the Slumdog cast for shining mainstream light on trafficking and winning awards in the process. Having said that, there are many other excellent documentaries and films on trafficking that were released this year,
some of which were posted on our site. Film representing one of many mediums through which awareness of trafficking can be raised, I'm excited to see what the new year will bring in terms of music, film and other creative means of inserting trafficking into the mainstream dialogue.

Elise: One of the most significant events that happened this year, at least in the United States, was in May when a federal judge handed down a decision in favor of trafficking survivors from the agricultural industry for approximately $7.8 million. The suit had been filed against the contractors Moises and Maria Rodriguez as well as Andy Grant and Grant Family Farms. Grant Farms settled out of court. Although the traffickers were charged under different criminal laws, the civil suit presented a good, albeit slower opportunity for justice for the survivors. Not only was the suit successful, it was one of, if not the, highest settlements ever awarded in a farmworker trafficking case.

The 2008 reauthorization of the TVPA had a section on the enhancement of civil action, however its application is still pretty rare so this was a big win not only for all trafficking survivors, but particularly for survivors from the agricultural field, which is still vastly overlooked. In addition, the attention of the case brought to light several difficult questions still facing the anti-trafficking community when dealing with case in the agricultural industry: 1) What is the responsibility of the growers and companies who purchase the products? 2) Why are, particularly labor, cases so difficult to pursue in criminal court? I'm hoping this new year will bring further victories like this for survivors of labor trafficking.

Meg: Domestically, a significant positive step was taken this year with the first federal prosecutions of (would-be) child prostitution customers under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act. The prosecutions were the result of an undercover operation in Kansas City known as "Operation Guardian Angel." The sting resulted in the convictions of seven adult males who responded to internet advertisements for underage prostitutes that were posted by task force officers. Although the TVPA was passed in 2000, no child trafficking customers were prosecuted under the act for nearly a decade. "Pimps" who offer to sell children as prostitutes had been previously convicted under the act, but prosecutions of "johns" are vital to prevent the driving force behind sex trafficking: demand.

Youngbee: The Department of Labor released 194 page long report on forced and child labor in 2009. The report is a significant byproduct of the NGO's urgency for DOL's active participation against child and forced labor. provides some of the highlights in the report regarding forced and child labor, which include:
  • The most common goods which have significant incidence of forced and/or child labor are cotton, sugarcane, tobacco, coffee, rice, and cocoa in agriculture; bricks, garments, carpets, and footwear in manufacturing; and gold and coal in mined or quarried goods.

  • 122 goods in 58 countries are produced with a significant incidence of forced labor, child labor, or both.

  • More goods were found to be made with child labor than forced labor.
The list of the countries heavily relying on child and forced labor include, North Korea, Bolivia, India, Burma, and Nepal.

Jennifer H: What is one of the most welcomed developments in the fight to end human bondage in 2009? Activists across the anti-trafficking spectrum welcomed the news in May of 2009 that Luis CdeBaca was appointed by President Obama as the Ambassador-at-Large of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. Mr. deBaca’s tireless fight to prosecute traffickers is matched by his determination to rescue and rehabilitate trafficking survivors. According to Benjamin Skinner in a great piece in the Huffington Post in May of this year, Most meaningful to de Baca, however, are his successful rescues and rehabilitations of over six-hundred slaves. That is a record unmatched by any law enforcement official at any level since Reconstruction. And central to his approach has been his deeply felt compassion for the victims. I look forward to more positive developments in the fight against slavery this coming year and I believe Mr. deBaca is up for the challenges inherent in his new position.

Shreya: The picture for victims of sex trafficking is grim: the world often fails to see them as victims. They are not treated like the victims of violence and human rights abuses that they are. We need better laws and better services for the victims. This is what New York Safe Harbor for Exploited Youth Act is trying to do. The Act, which comes into effect in April 2010, is the nation's first such act which recognizes sexually exploited children as victims and offers them social services instead of punishing them. Both the Trafficking in Persons Report and the UN meeting with survivors of human trafficking have pointed out that the victims need a safe place to speak out and we need to help them break out of the cycle of fear. In the next post in January 2010, I will write about what we can looking forward to regarding the impact of this act.

Happy New Year to all of our readers - Keep up the fight in 2010!

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