In the United States, slavery may be remembered as an abolished practice of the past, but it is still happening here today. It has been carried on through a new, illegal outlet: human trafficking.
The Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as “the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” Taking the definition a step further, the National Human Trafficking Hotline describes human trafficking as “modern-day slavery.”
Just looking through the news, I have come across countless stories — some just hours old — updating the world about ongoing human trafficking instances. For example, an incident occurred on May 26, only a state away in Oshkosh, Wisc. Slightly south of Green Bay, the area’s local ABC channel covered the ongoing inspection of a spa where victims and evidence of human trafficking have been discovered.
The FBI breaks down human trafficking into three forms. While all three involve the use of “force, fraud, or coercion,” they have different, inhumane purposes.
Historically creating the highest number of victims, sex trafficking forces victims to “engage in commercial sex acts.” Children and women are often the most vulnerable to this type of trafficking. These victims may suffer serious trauma, leading to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder, sleeping disorders or eating disorders. Along with reproductive problems, victims may also contract infectious diseases from unsanitary living environments.
Labor trafficking, much like it sounds, forces victims to perform labor or service. This type of trafficking is the most similar to the historical, unethical practice of slavery here in the United States. It falls into two categories: bonded labor and forced labor. Bonded labor is when the victim is in debt to the trafficker, while forced labor is when the trafficker violates the victim’s free will.
Lastly is domestic servitude, in which the victims are often held in a household and “appear to be domestic workers,” like nannies and housekeepers but are really being controlled through force. People most likely to be subject to this type of trafficking are immigrants or people of color. They make up 65% of all domestic workers in the United States. Immigrants are often blackmailed by traffickers, who threaten deportation when the immigrants do not yet have full citizenship.
Three years ago, while fact-checking what we described as “fantastical human-trafficking claims” by President Donald Trump, we discovered that the federal government did not publish a breakdown by nationality of visas given to victims of human trafficking, which are known as T visas.
It was a strange gap in the data. The best information we could provide was to note that 40 percent of T-derivative visas, for family members, were issued by the U.S. Embassy in Manila. We were frustrated enough by this issue that we even sent a note to staff members for key congressional committees urging that this data be made public.
With little public notice, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), an arm of the Department of Homeland Security, recently released a breakdown on 14 years of human-trafficking visas in a fact sheet.
T visas, created in 2000 when Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, are available only to victims of human trafficking and require that the applicant be in the United States or at a port of entry “on account of” trafficking. Visa applicants also are expected to assist in the investigation or prosecution of human trafficking. (There’s also another type of visa, the U Visa, for victims of serious crime who assist law enforcement.)
“This report was created as a tool for the general public to understand and recognize the characteristics of T Visa applicants and was published in January 2022 as part of USCIS’s commitment to supporting and protecting victims of human trafficking and other serious crimes,” said Anita Rios Moore, a USCIS spokeswoman, in a statement to the Fact Checker.
We’re publishing some highlights to draw attention to the new data. We’ve noted before the paucity of reliable data on sex trafficking — and how what numbers are available indicate that many politicians rely on exaggerated figures.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, introduced two bipartisan bills that would enhance our nation’s ability to combat the rise of human trafficking. The bills would make permanent the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Center for Countering Human Trafficking (CCHT) and increase coordination between DHS components and the Blue Campaign, a national public awareness effort designed to educate law enforcement and the public to recognize human trafficking.
“Human trafficking in Michigan and across the nation continues to threaten every community. We need to make sure our federal and local law enforcement agencies have the training and resources to recognize and stop these shocking crimes – which are tragically underreported,” said Senator Peters. “These commonsense, bipartisan bills will ensure that, with the help of the American people, our nation can work to disrupt and dismantle human trafficking organizations, and provide support and protection to their victims.”
“Human trafficking should not be happening in Ohio or our nation. The bipartisan Countering Human Trafficking Act and the bipartisan DHS Blue Campaign Enhancement Act advance a whole of government approach to give law enforcement the resources they need to combat it and hold those involved accountable for their actions,” said Senator Portman. “As founder and co-chair of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, I have led efforts in the Senate to combat human trafficking and I will continue to work to ensure that no more women or children become victims of this terrible crime.”
Millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide – including thousands in the United States. According to DHS, traffickers might use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations. Based on calls to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the Polaris Project found that in 2019 there were at least 14,597 sex trafficking victims and survivors in the United States. However, the actual number of these crimes may be much larger because these crimes often go unreported. In addition, the Michigan Human Trafficking Commission says that an extremely high number of human trafficking cases involve the sexual exploitation of a child. Eradicating these heinous crimes will require stronger anti-trafficking policies and ensuring that law enforcement professionals and the public are able to recognize indicators of human trafficking.
The Countering Human Trafficking Act will make permanent the CHHT, which oversees DHS’s efforts to combat human trafficking and the importation of products that are made with forced labor. The Center also ensures the Department is leveraging and coordinating its capabilities and resources to fight back against traffickers. The bill would allow the CHHT to build out their permanent staff with Special Agents, criminal analysts, and others. It will also allow the Center to modernize their systems and operations to support worldwide investigations on human trafficking and forced labor in supply chains, and bolster efforts to protect human trafficking victims. Finally, the legislation will also expand and improve national public awareness and law enforcement training initiatives to boost efforts to counter trafficking.
The DHS Blue Campaign Enhancement Act requires the Director of the Blue Campaign to develop online, interactive training videos and other web-based training opportunities for federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial law enforcement officers. These trainings will help to raise public awareness about the indicators of human trafficking and ensure law enforcement can respond quickly and effectivity.The bill also establishes a Blue Campaign Advisory Board in DHS, which will consult with the Director the Blue Campaign on the development of effective awareness tools for distribution to partners that will help them identify and prevent instances of human trafficking. The bill is a Senate companion to legislation introduced by U.S. Representatives Peter Meijer (R-MI) and Lou Correa (D-CA).
On JANUARY 11, Human Trafficking Awareness Day we invite you to Wear BLUE, the color that is the international symbol of human trafficking awareness. Post a photo of yourself and/or your group wearing blue and share it on social media in order to raise awareness and generate conversation about human trafficking. Be sure to tag USCSAHT in your #wearblueday photos: Facebook (@SistersAgainstTrafficking), Twitter (@uscsahtraffic), and Instagram (@uscsaht).
Here are a few sample messages you can include with your post on social media:
Today, I’m participating in @DHSBlueCampaign’s #WearBlueDay to bring awareness to #humantrafficking.
I wear blue because [insert why you are wearing blue]. #WearBlueDay #endhumantrafficking
Why am I wearing blue? To help #endhumantrafficking. Learn how you can get involved: https://go.usa.gov/xPDRc #WearBlueDay
I joined @DHSBlueCampaign in wearing blue today to raise awareness of #humantrafficking. Learn how you can get involved today #WearBlueDay https://go.usa.gov/xPDRc
You can also participate by Lighting Up a Landmark: coordinate with your local governments to light a capitol building, landmark, fountain, or bridge blue to raise awareness of human trafficking; or Host an Event: Host a panel discussion with local organizations combatting human trafficking or screen a human trafficking documentary and encourage the audience to wear blue and post photos from the event with #WearBlueDay. To learn more about Human Trafficking Awareness Day click here.
We also encourage you to take some time to learn more about human trafficking and join us in prayer to #EndHumanTrafficking. Below are a few resources to help. You can share them with friends and family as well!
USCSAHT educational module: Root Causes of Human Trafficking in English and Spanish
Video: Because we don’t know where to look Click here