Doubling Down on the Fight against Human Trafficking

Today President Obama signed into law a renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, a reaffirmation of our nation’s commitment to putting a stop to violence against women and other vulnerable groups.  Since the Violence Against Women Act first became law in 1994, domestic violence in the United States has dropped by 64%. Today’s reauthorization will bring to bear new tools to aid law enforcement and provide support to victims.  Congress passed the law with bipartisan support, and it’s something that all Americans should be proud of.

And there is even more good news to report.

Because as part of the bill reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, today President Obama also signed into law the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), which reauthorizes the landmark legislation that provides critical support to law enforcement, victims support providers, and U.S. diplomats to fight modern slavery at home and abroad. On September 25, 2012, the President declared in a speech dedicated to human trafficking that the fight against modern slavery is “one of the great human rights causes of our time” and pledged that the United States would continue to lead the global effort to eradicate this crime.  In that speech, the President called on Congress to renew the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.  Thanks to the leadership of key Members of Congress, including Senator Patrick Leahy, Leader Nancy Pelosi and Congresswoman Gwen Moore, this goal became a reality. 

Under President Obama’s leadership, and in coordination with state and local authorities, the U.S. government is making the fight against modern slavery a new priority. We’re working with stakeholders at every level of government, with NGOs and faith leaders, and with the private sector on increasing outreach, protections, and services for child victims, focusing attention on supply chains to curb labor trafficking, and leveraging technology to stop traffickers and protect the innocent.

The TVPRA will provide additional means to forward this agenda at home and around the world. 

On the global stage, the TVPRA will offer increased support to the State Department’s diplomatic engagement—work that has been critical to building awareness around the world for the anti-trafficking movement over the last decade.  At the same time, the law bolsters protections for vulnerable children and domestic workers.  It seeks to reward effective partnerships that bring services to survivors and put traffickers behind bars.  And it supports the development of effective laws by partner countries to hold accountable anyone who robs another of their freedom, whether that trafficker is a pimp, a corrupt labor recruiter, or even a diplomat.

Here at home, the TVPRA will enhance the protections we’ve long offered immigrant victims of trafficking.  It will enable agencies across the federal government to better share information, and to get that information out to those who need it most—victims, survivors, and those at risk.  The new TVPRA also increases support for investigations and prosecutions.  Law enforcement and justice officials will now be able to use organized crime provisions to crack down on fraudulent foreign labor recruiters, and new provisions will make it easier to pursue cases in which traffickers have confiscated immigration documents from foreign victims. The TVPRA will allow the Department of Justice and its partners to continue and build on existing programs, such as specialized Anti-Trafficking Coordination Teams currently at work in select pilot districts around the country.  It will also further the development of a federal strategic action plan to strengthen services for trafficking victims and help to preserve and protect the human rights of children and adults in the United States and around the world.

And as the global anti-trafficking movement continues to grow, the TVPRA will enable innovative new programs.  Those of us in the government will work to develop the tools and techniques that will carry this effort forward for years to come, whether changing the way we deliver support to child victims or harnessing new technologies to improve trafficking investigations and prosecutions.  The key to these innovations will be partnerships—among governments, the private sector, civil society, the faith community, and any other stakeholder committed to putting a stop to modern slavery. 

These partnerships will be essential moving forward.  Bringing more groups and individuals into the struggle for freedom is key to our future success. All of us share a responsibility to combat slavery, no matter what form it takes.  The TVPRA signed into law today is a call for all Americans to take up that responsibility, and to continue the work of building a world free from slavery.

Luis CdeBaca is Ambassador-at-Large, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking at the U.S. Department of State. Thomas E. Perez is Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice.

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