Ending Modern Day Slavery

By Rob McKenna, NAAG President and Washington State Attorney General ‪

In 1865, the United States ended slavery within its borders. Or did it? While chattel slavery indeed ended with the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment, the drive to profit from the unwilling efforts of others persists. Today, international trade barriers have eased and Internet use has skyrocketed. These factors, among others, have helped make human trafficking – the forced or coerced transport and exploitation of human beings – much easier.

Human trafficking is a $32 billion global industry – the fastest growing and second largest criminal activity in the world, tied with arms and after drug dealing. The 2010 United Nations Trafficking in Persons Report estimated that 12.3 million adults and children are trafficked across international borders into forced labor and sexual exploitation.

In addition to the estimated 15,000-17,000 persons smuggled into our country each year to work in fields, sweatshops, restaurants and the sex trade, it is believed that between 100,000-300,000 Americans are also victims of human trafficking within our borders. For example, police reports from around the country demonstrate that young people – whether runaways or cast out from troubled homes – are coerced into prostitution and beaten when they have second thoughts. Over 100,000 children are believed to be at risk for sexual exploitation in the United States with an average age of 11 to 14 years old.

On Dec. 1, one of my hometown news outlets, the SeattlePI.com, reported on a particularly disturbing case. Local prosecutors charged a man for promising an 18-year-old woman with developmental disabilities a trip home for Thanksgiving if she agreed to prostitute herself. The man posted an advertisement on prostitution-promoting site Backpage.com, and then drove her to customers, taking the proceeds along the way.

It is cases like these that prompt law enforcement officials, including Attorneys General, to seek more action protecting victims caught in traffickers’ tentacles. That’s why in June, I announced my NAAG presidential initiative to address the problem. “Pillars of Hope: Attorneys General Unite Against Human Trafficking” has four interlocking pieces. We’ll make the case that action must be taken, hold traffickers accountable, mobilize care for victims and build public awareness.

Making the Case

Attorneys General often receive inquiries from reporters and others about the number of human trafficking cases in their states. Although data exist on trafficking cases tried by federal authorities, state-specific information is hard to find. No uniform database exists to capture an increasing number of cases being tried under state human trafficking statutes, or cases where traffickers are charged with related crimes such as pimping, kidnapping, physical or sexual assault. We will support dissemination of two key training modules. We will promote National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) information to help local authorities identify cases and report them through a uniform means.

In addition, we plan to prepare an assessment of the problem in the United States. We will analyze existing state laws and model criminal and civil statutes, as well as tools for evaluating the effectiveness of prevention strategies, law enforcement and victim services at the state level.

Holding Traffickers Accountable

Not all states have adopted a comprehensive set of anti-human trafficking laws that provide the tools necessary to police and prosecutors. In addition, only 20 states are actually using existing laws. In order to assist state and local law enforcement, we will implement criminal justice strategies to help identify individuals and organizations engaged in trafficking, support the launch of a new FBI training program for local law enforcers and encourage state program managers responsible for criminal justice statistics to participate in the FBI’s effort to map trafficking offenses. Our hope is that this process will ensure full implementation and compliance of Anti-Human Trafficking Statutes, and drive prosecutions in all 50 states.

Mobilizing Communities to Care for Victims

Through no fault of their own, victims of human trafficking are on society’s fringes. They are sometimes runaways or don’t speak English. They may have been brought into the country illegally and thus don’t feel comfortable seeking out services, for fear of being turned in to the police.

We will produce a list of service provider networks in every state, to ensure that all identified victims of human trafficking have access to food, shelter, and culturally appropriate services. We will also provide an inventory of advocacy organizations that assist with community awareness strategies at the state and local levels, and in establishing partnerships between service providers, victim advocates and law enforcement.

Public awareness and advocacy

While it’s difficult to imagine today, just two decades ago drunken driving was not recognized as a serious problem. Neither was the crime of domestic violence as appropriately emphasized as it is today.

Although numerous public awareness campaigns exist, few use proven metrics to demonstrate their effectiveness. Through “Pillars of Hope,” we aim to reduce demand for trafficking victims through proven public awareness campaigns, including in January for National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention month as well as a major presence at Super Bowl XLVI on Feb. 12, 2012.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “Free labor has the inspiration of hope; pure slavery has no hope. The power of hope upon human exertion and happiness is wonderful.” ‪Thankfully, our nation has come a great way since the 1860s. Still, there are those among us who don’t enjoy the liberties promised by our founders. My goal through the “Pillars of Hope” initiative is to deliver on that promise by leading attorneys general across the nation in bringing hope and freedom to the victims of modern day slavery.

Learn more at http://www.naag.org/2011-2012-presidential-initiative.php

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NAAG PRESIDENT & WASHINGTON ATTORNEY GENERAL ROB MCKENNA.