Federal Efforts During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

Child Abuse & Neglect
Child Rights

On December 31, 2014, President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation establishing January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month stating, in part:

“Over a century and a half after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, millions remain in bondage – children forced to take part in armed conflict or sold to brothels by their destitute families, men and women who toil for little or no pay, who are threatened and beaten if they try to escape. Slavery tears at our social fabric, fuels violence, and organized crime, and debases our common humanity. During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we renew our commitment to ending this scourge in all forms.”

This January, the House of Representatives proved America’s commitment to addressing the issue of human trafficking, specifically in the form of commercial sexual exploitation of children, by passing 12 bills aimed at ending this disgraceful practice. With leadership from representatives like Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX), Congressman Eric Paulsen (R-MN), Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA), and many others, the House took swift action aimed at cracking down on traffickers, providing much-needed services to victims, and training law enforcement and service providers to both prevent and respond to incidences of human trafficking.

Building off of the momentum created by the passage of the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, the new Congress is taking even bigger steps to address the threat to and needs of nearly 300,000 American children and youth at risk of trafficking. Many of these children have a history of sexual or physical abuse making them particularly vulnerable to traffickers. The limited data we have on the commercial sexual exploitation of children shows that children and youth with a history of homelessness or with connections to the child welfare system are particularly susceptible to being trafficked. Bills like the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act of 2015 (H.R. 159) and the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (H.R. 181) take important steps to ensure that children and youth who are trafficked are always treated as victims and never prosecuted for being exploited. These two bills, along with the 10 others that are being sent to the Senate, will begin to form a holistic approach to ending human trafficking although more resources dedicated to providing vital medical and mental health services, housing, legal services and

Outside of the House of Representatives, the prevalence of child trafficking in the United States has been highlighted across many forums. The McCain Institute in conjunction with Rights4Girls held a Conversation About Sex Trafficking which featured leading national advocates, Congressional champions on trafficking issues and Google. Panelists discussed the challenges in ending trafficking and discussed policy and technology solutions to reduce the incidence of child trafficking. In addition, on January 23rd, Diane Sawyer presented a report on Nightline entitled “Hidden America: Chilling New Look at Sex Trafficking in the US,” which highlights how vulnerable children are targeted by pimps in well known places such as the Port Authority in New York City.

We hope that the momentum around ending child sex trafficking continues and that the  Senate passes the bills sent to it by the House with more resources allocated for rehabilitating victims. Finally, it is critical that the media, advocates, policymakers and the public at large, keep the conversation of keeping children safe from exploitation alive act in meaningful ways to make this a reality long after this month is over.