How the new anti-trafficking bill will help to curb the human trafficking epidemic

by Mellissa Withers | University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine
Wednesday, 2 August 2017 13:01 GMT

Flight attendant Mary Furlong-Ferguson (R) delivers educational materials about spotting sex-trafficking to gate agent Stephanie Williams at the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Texas, in this 2011 archive photo. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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Anti-trafficking advocates have lauded the measure that recently passed the House of Representatives. Here's why.

The House of Representatives recently approved a new anti-trafficking bill (H.R. 2200) which allocates over $500 million over the next four years for domestic and international programs to support victims and persons vulnerable to human trafficking. This is an encouraging step to enhance efforts by the U.S. government in preventing human trafficking, protecting trafficking victims, and prosecuting traffickers. Named for the famed American abolitionist, the "Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act" reauthorizes funding for programs within the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Labor, and State, and the U.S Agency for International Development, highlighting the importance of tackling this growing problem through multiple channels.

The fact that H.R. 2200 passed with no recorded opposition is a testament to the fact that human trafficking is being increasingly recognized by both political parties as a serious national and international problem. Anti-trafficking advocates have lauded this bill, and several other anti-trafficking bills passed by the House this year, as strong statements that the U.S. is committed to the fight to end modern slavery. These efforts also reveal the complexities of combating human trafficking, with the bill advocating for a more comprehensive response -- one that approaches the problem from several levels.

INCREASED RESOURCES FOR VICTIMS

This bill places more emphasis on the prevention of trafficking compared to the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which was reauthorized by Congress four times by overwhelming majorities in 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2013. Not only will H.R. 2200 bolster the identification of trafficking victims through more educational programs, but it will provide funding to increase programs that provide victims with more assistance, such as trauma-informed care or long-term housing options.

Community-based organizations that provide services for victims are notoriously overtaxed and often struggle to meet the needs of all groups that seek services. As a result, crucial resources such as shelters and psychological counseling are scarce. This bill will help organizations to better meet victims’ needs.

ENHANCED PREVENTATIVE MEASURES FOR CHILD TRAFFICKING

H.R. 2200 brings attention to the importance of preventing future exploitation. One important area of focus is the prevention of child sex trafficking in the United States. Through more age-appropriate information in human trafficking to students, school teachers, and staff, we can raise awareness of the tactics used by traffickers to manipulate and exploit victims. School officials are well-positioned to help recognize warning signs of children who are most vulnerable to trafficking and to prevent them from being exploited. With increased awareness regarding the signs of trafficking, school officials can also be called upon to report potential trafficking cases to authorities.

Interventions are also needed to ensure that girls value themselves -- promoting self-esteem can also help empower girls from falling prey to traffickers. We also have to provide resources and services to at-risk youth, such as those in foster care and those living on the streets, as we know that at-risk youth are at risk for sex trafficking.

MORE COMPREHENSIVE TRAINING FOR TRAVEL AND HOSPITALITY INDUSTRIES

The bill also highlights the importance of workforce training in industries that are most likely to come into contact with trafficking victims, calling for mandatory training of airline pilots and flight attendants, as well as incentivizing hotels to train staff to spot signs of trafficking. Just this year we have seen examples of how such trainings can equip flight attendants and truck drivers to recognize and stop trafficking.

CLOSER MONITORING OF INTERNATIONAL TRADE

The bill calls for both domestic and international efforts to combat trafficking and to prevent the sale in the United States of goods made by forced labor abroad. It also stresses the need for more international research and data sharing on trafficking, which can in turn help to better identify trends and stop trafficking at the source. It will bolster the monitoring of child, forced, and slave labor, helping to reduce cases of human trafficking in U.S. government supply chains. By taking these measures, we can better ensure that the U.S. government isn’t supporting trafficking by supporting businesses that use child and slave labor abroad.

All in all, this is a very promising step toward creating programs that aim to prevent human trafficking among vulnerable populations. It will also better support organizations that work with victims of human trafficking through increased funding for services. And equally important, it is a critical demonstration of the U.S. government’s leadership in the prevention of human trafficking abroad.

Mellissa Withers, Ph.D., MHS, is an assistant professor at the Institute for Global Health at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine. She is also a regular contributor to Psychology Today where she writes about the complexities of human trafficking.