Human trafficking appears in many guises. It might take the form of compelled commercial sexual exploitation, the prostitution of minors, debt bondage, or forced labor.
The United States government, and increasingly, the international community, view “trafficking in persons” as the term through which all forms of modern slavery are criminalized.
“The problem of modern trafficking may be entrenched, and it may seem like there is no end in sight. But if we act on the laws that have been passed and the commitments that have been made, it is solvable.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, June 28, 2011
Trafficked people have typically been tricked, lied to, threatened, assaulted, raped, or confined. But the term “victim” does not mean that a person who has suffered those crimes was necessarily incapable or helpless. In many cases, these people have shown tremendous strength in the face of horrible adversity.
Sound policy both acknowledges that a crime has occurred and honors victims’ agency and autonomy. People fall victim to trafficking for many reasons. Some may simply be seeking a better life, a promising job, or even an adventure. Others may be povertystricken and forced to migrate for work, or they may be marginalized by their society. These vulnerabilities do not mean that those who are victimized are dependent on someone else to empower them. It often means that they had the courage to pursue an opportunity that they believed would change their lives and support their families. Traffickers see and understand this reality, and through imbalances in power and information—and a willingness to use coercion and violence—they take advantage of their victims’ hope for a better future.
Law enforcement agents, good Samaritans, and civil society, among others, are often instrumental in helping a victim escape the trafficking situation. For some, though, freedom comes as a result of summoning the courage to escape their abuser when the opportunity presents itself.
“This year’s Trafficking in Persons Report focuses on how to make victim protection—part of the 3P Paradigm of prevention, prosecution, and protection—most effective for helping survivors get their lives back on track.
This Report tells us that some governments are doing this well, using practices that work and making needed resources available. It also tells us that some governments are treating victims as criminals or ignoring them entirely. Ultimately, it tells us that everyone must do more, and that we do not yet have the solutions that will eradicate this crime once and for all. But every day, with the commitment of governments and civil society, the private sector and concerned individuals, those solutions are increasingly within reach.
The voices of survivors—whether calling from the past or ringing out in a courtroom in 2012—are a sad reminder that the struggle against modern-day slavery is a long fight still not won. They are a reminder that if governments shirk their responsibility to bring traffickers to justice and to help victims on their road to recovery, the intolerable yoke of modern-day slavery will persist. As we strive to deliver on the promise of freedom, let us vow together that survivors’ stories will not be forgotten and that their lessons will guide us forward.”
Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons