SEATTLE — Established by the Justice for Victims Trafficking Act (JVTA) on May 29, 2015, the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking consists of 11 human trafficking survivors. Appointed by President Barack Obama, the survivors who comprise the council directly advise and recommend policies based on their personal experiences, knowledge and expertise.
With this first-hand expertise, the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking provides recommendations on federal anti-trafficking policies to the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PITF). This task force has a broad reach and includes 18 agencies such as the Department of State and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Susan Coppedge, Ambassador-at-Large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. Department of State, explains that many organizations struggle to identify victims and criminalize them instead. In her testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2015, she described how our criminal justice system could punish a 16-year-old girl for prostitution and then release her to the traffickers who exploited her in the first place. The Department of State outlines that the Council was created to strengthen and review federal policies and efforts that reflect best practices in anti-trafficking. People who were trafficked in the past can effectively help victims of human trafficking today.
In a special report to CNN, council member Evelyn Chumbow revealed how she was sent from Cameroon to the U.S. and endured nine years of domestic servitude and abuse. With the help of others, Chumbow received a Bachelor of Science degree in Homeland Security from the University of Maryland. Inspired after receiving an internship with Baker & McKenzie law firm, she partnered with the Thomson Reuters Foundation and ICE Foundation to help survivors embark upon successful professional careers. She knows first hand the overwhelming difficulties transitioning from victim to survivor, and said “no individual should be defined or pigeonholed by the worst thing that ever happened to them.” Therefore, her experience and the experiences of other survivors are crucial to assisting these agencies in providing resources, skills, education and jobs to victims.
On Oct. 18, 2016, the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking published its first report detailing recommendations on rule of law, public awareness, victim services, labor laws and grantmaking. Their first recommendation was that five government departments improve their training on all forms of human trafficking. Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world, and law enforcement must receive comprehensive training on the specific forms of human trafficking. The council also recommended that survivors train law enforcement investigators and that the Club Owners Against Sexual Trafficking (COAST) program work with the council to improve training.
Identifying the lack of training among professionals who interact with vulnerable children and adolescents, the council recommended that PITF agencies include a more diverse representation of survivors and represent all forms of human trafficking in public awareness efforts. Victims services should include housing, mental healthcare and other public services. The U.S. Advisory Council discovered that housing services are sometimes the only way for victims to escape trafficking. Its plans for future collaboration include revising language currently used in survivor services and working with regional offices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to develop a more holistic approach to victim identification.
Furthermore, the Department of Labor has identified industries with exploited, trafficked and vulnerable workers. (People can also research industry and company supply chains through ResponsibleSourcingTool.org.) The Council recommended collaboration with the DOL to establish survivor-informed training; increased investigations in hospitality, agriculture and construction by the DOL Wage and Hour Division; and the removal of age requirements and background checks for all employment assistance programs.
In December, then-President Obama declared January 2017 to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In fact, ending modern slavery is one of the few causes that achieves bipartisan support in Congress. In a speech addressing U.S. Republicans, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said, “We hope you will join us in cracking down on modern slavery.” The International Labor Organization estimates that modern slavery generates $150 billion every year.
By taking an adamant stance against modern slavery, President Trump can decrease the rewards human traffickers are reaping. One practical solution is to support the Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development (READ) Act, which was recently passed by the House of Representatives. Its goal is to increase global education, especially in vulnerable populations, which reduces opportunities for exploitation and prepares students for legal employment. By consulting with the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, President Trump can make wise decisions to influence the global economy as well as improve the lives of many Americans.
– Andy Jung