NY Daily News Features Op-Ed by Safe Horizonís Liz Roberts on Modern-Day Slavery in the U.S. and the Renewal of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act
Posted on: Friday, September 21, 2012
The emancipation is still incomplete
More than 20 million slaves worldwide
By Safe Horizon Chief Program Officer Liz Roberts
It was 150 years ago tomorrow: On Sept. 22, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a preliminary proclamation ordering the emancipation of slaves in the Confederacy. One hundred days later, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, taking a decisive step toward eradicating slavery in the United States.
Today we honor this history-making leadership, while recognizing the urgent need to eliminate the racial inequalities that persist in this country. Yet we must acknowledge that the fight against slavery is far from won. Modern-day slavery, known as human trafficking, is certainly less institutionalized than the variety that went extinct more than a century ago.
But it is persistent. It is pervasive. And we can do much more to stop it.
Slavery is illegal in every country in the world. However, the tremendous growth in population and rapidly changing demographics, combined with government corruption worldwide, has prevented anti-slavery laws from being applied to the resurgent trade in people.
The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million people who are victims of forced labor worldwide. That’s a figure larger than the entire population of Florida.
Today, human trafficking affects people of every nationality, gender, religion, age and socio-economic class. It can occur in almost any industry, from manufacturing to agriculture, from health care to transportation, construction to the commercial sex trade.
And though people aren’t often literally bought and sold, they do not have freedom. They aren’t paid wages, they work in deplorable conditions and they are kept from leaving through the use or threat of physical and sexual violence (against them or family members), not to mention emotional coercion.
The potential for severe exploitation is greatest in sectors that operate outside the law, like the commercial sex industry, and in informal work environments, such as agriculture, home health care and domestic service. The echoes of history are startling, with most instances of trafficking seen in the labor sectors that once relied on slave labor prior to the Emancipation Proclamation. Back then, the cotton for your clothing was likely picked, at least in part, by slave labor. The same is true today.
The foundation of all U.S. efforts to combat modern-day slavery is a law called the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. In 2003, 2005 and 2008, Congress unanimously reauthorized the TVPA. But the current Congress allowed it to expire last October.
Big mistake. This law is needed to sustain and improve life-saving U.S. programs that combat slavery around the world and within our borders.
In particular, the legislation supports the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons — our government’s most important asset for combating modern-day slavery internationally. TIP’s skilled diplomats monitor slavery and press governments around the world to confront it.
By providing grant funding to organizations like Safe Horizon, that office has enabled the rescue and rehabilitation of thousands of survivors of sex trafficking and forced labor — and the prosecution and conviction of hundreds of trafficking perpetrators.
Without these protections, our society is vulnerable to taking a tremendous step backward in the great strides made to hold perpetrators of trafficking accountable.
President Lincoln, in a speech at Edwardsville, Ill., said, “Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage and you are preparing your own limbs to wear them.” We must ensure that we don’t become too familiar with these chains in our own time.
To ensure freedom for those who are enslaved as well as ourselves, we must renew the TVPA as soon as possible.
Roberts is chief program officer of Safe Horizon, a victim service agency that provides support and services to survivors of crime and violence, including human trafficking.