History, History Column

The History of Human Trafficking

By Sarah Becker

History-Human Trafficking (1)Human slavery did not end with the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Today human trafficking is a $32 billion-a-year industry. “Money should be able to buy a lot of things, but it should never, ever be able to buy another human being,” Secretary of State, former Boston-area Prosecutor John F. Kerry noted. By Presidential proclamation, January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

The Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 mostly ended national slavery. The Thirteenth Amendment, as ratified in 1866, abolished it. Yet the number of people now enslaved exceeds the number of African-Americans held at the height of the 19th century trans-Atlantic slave trade. At least 20.9 million people are victims of human trafficking worldwide.

“Liberty is a slow fruit,” Ralph Waldo Emerson lamented. In 2000, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act became the first federal law to address the problem of human trafficking. The Act, Public Law 106-386 as amended, and the Palermo Protocol, the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children describe “this compelled service” as involuntary servitude, slavery or practices similar to slavery, debt bondage and forced labor.

Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, second only to the drug trade. Severe forms of trafficking in persons are defined as: (1) sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such as act has not attained 18 years of age, or (2) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

Trafficking in women and children involves crimes greater than a misdemeanor. It includes sexual assault and rape, involuntary confinement, theft of wages, blackmail, intimidation and reckless exposure to disease. Remarkably, a pimp with three enslaved prostitutes can make $588,000 a year.

“The three elements of current servitude are force, fraud and coercion,” Polaris Project Executive Director & CEO Bradley Myles explained. “While the forms of labor and services differ, the slaveholder almost always enjoys wealth.” The Polaris Project, a nonprofit organization headquartered in the District of Columbia, advocates for stronger federal and state laws. It also operates the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s toll free, 24-hour Hotline: 1-888-373-7888. Of the fifty states, in 2014, Virginia and Maryland ranked 6th and 8th in Hotline calls.

“Trafficking in persons is an insult to human dignity and an assault on freedom,” Secretary Kerry said. “Whether we are talking about the sale of women and children by terrorists in the Middle East; the sex trafficking of girls lured from their homes in Central Europe, the exploitation of farm workers in North America, or the enslavement of fishermen in Southeast Asia, the victims of this crime each have a name. And they each have been robbed of their most basic human rights.”

“Modern slavery doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” Secretary Kerry concluded. “It’s connected to a host of 21st century challenges, including the persistence of extreme poverty, discrimination against women and minorities, corruption and other failures of governance, the abuse of social media, and the power and reach of transnational organized crime.” Rebecca L. Lollar, an emerging human trafficking expert, associates the problem with governance primarily public policy.

Human trafficking, sex trafficking “is a terrible crime,” Congressman Don Beyer (VA-8) said upon the 2015 passage of S. 178, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. “We cannot ignore the root causes that jeopardize the safety of our family members.” The top three countries of origin of federally identified victims in 2014 were the United States, Mexico and the Philippines.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center “responds to nearly 100 new cases of human trafficking weekly in the United States.” Sex crimes are usually associated with [h]motels, commercial brothels and online ads. The sex trade targets girls as young as 12 years old, boys 11 years old. Forced labor, especially peonage and slavery may include domestic work, traveling sales crews and farming.

In 2010 Virginia was listed among the Polaris Project’s “Dirty Dozen.” The Polaris Project “helped build a statewide, bipartisan movement comprised of legislators, service providers, students and community members to improve Virginia’s human trafficking laws.” The Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star now describes State Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) as a “perennial patron of anti-trafficking legislation.”

Only 25 states require that the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s toll free, 24-hour Hotline number—1-888-373-7888—be posted or promoted. This year Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring has added a data-driven online component to the Commonwealth’s anti-human trafficking campaign. For at least the next six months multilingual online ads, geo-fenced ads will give victims access to support and restoration services as well as inform traffickers “Virginia is watching.” “Traffickers will be held accountable,” Herring stated.

In October 2015 the Alexandria Police Department participated in the FBI’s Operation Cross Country, a nationwide law enforcement effort that addressed commercial child sex trafficking. The week long sting resulted in the recovery of 149 underage victims and the arrests of more than 150 pimps. The Alexandria-based National Center for Missing & Exploited Children also joined in.

“I wish from my soul that the legislature of this State could see the policy of a gradual Abolition of Slavery,” George Washington wrote Lawrence Lewis in 1797. State laws form the basis of the majority of criminal actions. Yet no state, no nation can end modern slavery alone.

On average, a trafficker can buttonhole a runaway child in just 48 hours. “When kids are treated as a commodity, we must rescue them from their nightmare,” FBI Director James Comey said.

President Lincoln’s Cottage seeks to raise awareness of modern-day slavery. The #WhatIWouldMiss campaign, a teen-age contest, encourages youth to think about aspects of their daily lives; to post, using social media, what they would miss should they fall victim to predators’ advances. For more information, including contest rules and winning entry, visit http://www.lincolncottage.org.

“When we show people the realities of what victims of human trafficking face, it is nearly impossible to walk away without joining the growing movement to fight these human rights abuses,” Myles concluded.


Columnist’s Note: Readers continue to inquire regarding my October 2015 column, Immigration. Presidential campaign rhetoric; WJLA, News Channel 7’s November 19, 2015 story “Fierce debate over sanctuary cities surrounding the District,” has left many curious. Is Alexandria a sanctuary city?

The WJLA story, available online, states: “Some local governments do not fully cooperate with immigration officials when they find an illegal immigrant has a federal warrant…During this investigation we learned every D.C. Metro jurisdiction cooperates with criminal warrants issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But…Alexandria…do[es] not cooperate with civil or deportation warrants.”

Alexandria’s answer to News Channel 7: “You reported that Alexandria does not cooperate with civil or deportation warrants and that is incorrect. If we take custody of someone who is wanted by ICE, we do indeed notify ICE. Per our agreement with ICE, they then file a “Warrant for Arrest of Alien,” Form 200. This warrant is lodged as a detainer and is used as the legal document to hold an individual, whatever the charges are. This also allows ICE adequate time to make arrangements to pick up the prisoner.”


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Taglines for website: human trafficking, sex trafficking, modern slavery, involuntary servitude, debt bondage, Trafficking Victims Protection Act, National Human Trafficking Resource Center, #WhatIWouldMiss

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