Excerpts of remarks by U.S. Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Bureau Meeting Webinar
Monday, April 27, 2020 10:00 a.m. EST
President Tsereteli, Secretary General Montella, and all my distinguished colleagues on this webinar, it is good to see you and I hope that everyone is staying healthy.
As lawmakers, all of us are focused almost exclusively on combating the coronavirus pandemic and seeking ways to mitigate its horrific impact.
The United States has about a million confirmed cases of COVID-19 with over fifty-five thousand deaths. My state of New Jersey alone has well over one hundred thousand confirmed cases with over 6,000 dead.
Your constituents in each of your countries, like mine, have suffered enormous devastation and loss.
And now we know that the pandemic puts human trafficking victims at higher risk.
As the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues, and prime author of five U.S. laws to combat this exploitation including the landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, I strongly believe we need to be seriously addressing:
Increased victim vulnerability—higher risk—especially for women and children,
The situation of both current victims and survivors of trafficking,
The heightened insecurity of victims in 2020 and beyond as government and philanthropic resources will likely be diminished,
Ensuring a sustained and robust criminal justice response during and after the pandemic, and more.
First and foremost, we must renew and reprioritize the fight against human trafficking.
Traffickers are not shut down—they haven’t gone on a holiday.
Victims still need to be rescued.
Survivors still need assistance.
Vulnerable people have been made even more vulnerable by both the virus and its deleterious impact on the global economy.
When things start to open back up, traffickers may even have an easier time finding, deceiving, coercing and exploiting victims.
New patterns of exploitation are already emerging due to increased online activity, greater use of social media, and social distancing practices. This makes it even more clear that we need to take into account how new technologies affect our efforts to combat human trafficking.
Teleworking and social distancing practices appear to be changing some of the dynamics of trafficking for sexual exploitation, shifting to and increasing various forms of trafficking online. For example, there is disturbing evidence of an increase in demand for online pornography and therefore an increase in the potential for online sexual exploitation of trafficking victims.
According to U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons John Richmond, with whom I spoke at length on Friday, the pandemic has made the “vulnerable more vulnerable”.
He said there are anecdotal reports from several countries within the OSCE, that online child sexual abuse and access to websites that host such exploitation have increased.
He noted that traffickers appear to be shifting labor trafficking victims into work related online commerce, and sex trafficking victims to online sexual exploitation.
Sex buyers are quarantined like everyone else and are turning to online venues. Sites are hosting videos of trafficking victims, sexual abuse of children, and rape.
Because of the pandemic, victims are likely to be facing increased abuse and are less likely to be rescued. Victims may be quarantined with their traffickers, and, as a result of quarantine and social distancing practices, are now less likely to come into contact with people who might assist or rescue them.
How many victims and survivors are homeless?
To read the full article by David Wildstein on The New New Jersey Globe: Click HereTags: Coronavirus, COVID, New Jersey
Category: State Government