Monday, February 1, 2010

Human Trafficking in the United States

Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery that, after drug dealing, is the second largest criminal industry worldwide; however, due to the nature of human trafficking, it is often difficult to detect and has thus gone widely unprosecuted. According to U.S. Government-sponsored research, each year, approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders into slavery, not including the millions trafficked within their own countries. Victims of trafficking include men, women, teens, and children who are often recruited through forced abduction, pressure from parents, or deception between traffickers and the victim or victim’s parents. Once trafficking occurs, victims are usually transported far from friends and family and kept in isolated surroundings under constant threats of violence or other forms of physical and mental coercion. Traffickers may also confiscate a victim’s visa, passport, or money, making it impossible to leave the situation. Human trafficking may be for the purpose of sex or forced labor: victims often work as prostitutes, domestic servants, or workers in restaurants, sweatshop factories or agriculture for little or no pay and under inhumane conditions.

Although human trafficking has been denounced by several international conventions as a violation of human rights and international norms, no federal law existed on the subject until October of 2000 when the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) was passed. The TVPA makes trafficking of humans a federal crime and was enacted in order to prevent human trafficking overseas, to protect victims in the U.S., and to prosecute traffickers under federal law. Further, the 2003 reauthorization of the TVPA created a civil remedy allowing survivors of trafficking to collect damages from their traffickers in order to better punish and deter traffickers and compensate victims.

Since 2000, over half of the world’s governments have enacted laws making human trafficking a crime. Despite these efforts, human trafficking often goes undetected and under-prosecuted; however, more attention and publicity has been given to the issue in recent years. In the international arena, Haitian officials have expressed concern over allegations of human trafficking involving children and the sale of human organs following the devastating earthquake on January 12, 2010.

Human trafficking is just as large of a concern in the United States. In South Florida, a concerned citizen’s tip of unusual activity at a suburban house helped uncover a prostitution ring operating out of a network of homes in which trafficked women were forced into the sex trade. In Hawaii, farm owners recently plead guilty to forced labor of workers illegally imported from Thailand. In an effort to toughen state laws against human trafficking, a bill was recently reviewed by a Kansas Senate committee that would make coerced employment a crime punishable by time in prison and would allow police to seize assets of human trafficking rings.

These are just some of the most recent stories involving human trafficking in the news. The problem is ongoing and though it has received more attention recently, we must also act to help rehabilitate victims, punish traffickers, and end the practice of human trafficking. In an effort to compensate trafficking survivors for the violations of their human rights, Human Rights USA is working with the George Washington University Law School International Human Rights Clinic to seek civil damages for victims of human trafficking.

-By Shilpa Deshpande, Legal Intern, Refugee & Detention Project

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