Human Trafficking is a multi-billion dollar business by organized crime that traps victims and robs them of their self-worth and freedom. Many victims are trafficked from our region, especially, neigbouring countries such as Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador to the United States of America. The USA is very much engaged in the fight against human trafficking and desires other countries to combat this inhumane crime as well. In this regard, the Foreign Press Centers took the opportunity to select twenty journalists from different countries including Belize to visit three different cities in the USA, namely: Washington DC, Houston, Texas and Los Angeles, California to gain firsthand knowledge of how the USA is engaged in combating Human Trafficking through laws and policies. In Washington DC, the journalists met with federal agents, as well as non-government organization representatives, one such federal agent was Steven Wagner, Acting Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services who spoke of how the US government is addressing the issue.
Steven Wagner – Acting Assistant Secretary
“The US government got in the business of responding to human trafficking in 2000 with the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act so we’ve been at this for just shy of 20 years. We’ve learned a lot in that time. Let me say first of all that it is a shared responsibility among several federal agencies, we passed the bill, the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act, which had the effect of defining for the first time in Federal Law the crime of Human Trafficking. There are two types of human trafficking, there is labour exploitation and there is sex exploitation. The word in English ”trafficking” leads people to misunderstand the crime because trafficking sounds like it involves movement. The crime of trafficking has nothing to do with the movement of people it has to do with their exploitation it has to do with forcing them to do things against their will and those things are either provide commercial sex- that is to say some sex act on account of which something of value changes hands, or labor exploitation in which your labor is forced, your compelled to provide labor without being provided compensation or without getting just compensation. So we’ve identified these two types and that was defined as I said for the first time in Federal law in 2000. In addition, there is an interesting feature of the Federal Law which is that a minor, somebody who is under 18 cannot consent to commercial sex— for adults in order to prove the crime of trafficking, the trafficker overcomes the will of victim that is to say compels to do something they don’t want to do; they overcome the will of the victim either through physical force, fraud -they lie to them about, for example, getting a job when they come to the United States or some benefit that the victim will receive if they cooperate, or coercion which often involves confiscating the passport or travel documents of the victim and saying ‘you’ll never get this back.’ Also, commonly threatening the family of the victim perhaps back in their home country. These are the devices that are used to overcome the will of the victim by the trafficker. In the case of children, you don’t have to show forced, fraud, or coercion in the instance of sex exploitation because a child or somebody under the age of 18 cannot consent to that.”
Oftentimes, human trafficking is in plain sight as victims work in bars, strip clubs, and massage spas. Others, in particular, labour trafficking, can be found on farms, in factories, and in prominent people’s homes. The State of California is engaged in the battle against human trafficking. Emily C. Williams, Senior Deputy for the Los Angeles County, spoke with the foreign press about how the State of California is going about executing this.
Emily Williams – Senior Deputy for the Los Angeles County
“A motion that was introduced in September 2013 was to establish a countywide multi-agency model to combat sex trafficking so that is when the board of supervisors said to the departments ‘you shall find a way to work together and really define each of your roles, assign personnel, assign financing to making sure that you in each of your roles can combat sex trafficking whether it’s services to the victims, whether it is attacking demand, whether it’s prosecuting pimps, wherever you fit in that is what you will do so that was established in 2013. In 2014, my boss co-authored a motion that would make it mandatory to provide training to motel operators and employees because we knew that much of the trafficking was happening in motels. So mandatory training for motel operators and employees, mandatory posting of posters with the emergency trafficking hotline so that anyone being trafficked could look at that information and get help and then also mandatory opening of the books to law enforcement so that law enforcement can come in without notice or announcement and go through the rosters at the motels to see if there were any known traffickers or any known John’s would have been in the hotel.”
The State of California is also tackling the problem through education. In this regard, Ashlie Bryant, Co-Founder and President of 3Strands Global Foundation, said that the Governor Jerry Brown of California passed a bill into law.
Ashlie Bryant, Co-Founder & President of 3Strands Global Foundation
“Last year, we wrote a bill called AB 1227 and Governor Brown signed that bill into law on October 7th of this last year. It requires all public schools’ teachers to be trained in both sex and labor trafficking and trauma as well as for students to be educated. So this was a very important piece of the work that we do because if you have a mandate in the school system then it makes it much easier for those schools to understand the importance of doing that education and that training. So that was effective January 1st of this year. The name of the program is called PROTECT, Prevention Organized To Educate Children on Trafficking. Federally, we talk about human trafficking being both sex trafficking as well as labor trafficking so the bill that we passed this last year is both labor trafficking and sex trafficking, it is education for both and we kind of took a step out for Californians to say it’s important to match what federally what we are doing rather than just be focused on sex trafficking, especially because of the state of California we are an AG state and we have other components of this state that are great that lend itself to the labor trafficking and the traffickers to flourish here. So we really made sure that we were talking about both.”
Bryant said that her organization 3Strands Global Foundation has educated more than 32,000 students in seventeen California counties about human trafficking in order that they may avoid the pitfall of this heinous crime against humanity.