Modern Slavery is a Growing Global Threat

I recently learned a lot about the growing global crime of sex and labor trafficking which deprives millions worldwide of their dignity and freedom. I am honored to have been elected to the Board of Directors of the Rotary Action Group Against Slavery (RAGAS). As a new board member, I assisted with an anti-trafficking workshop at the Rotary International Convention held in Toronto in late July. I also helped other RAGAS Board members to staff the Anti-trafficking convention information booth where I had the opportunity to hear from Rotarian anti-slavery advocates from around the world. Rotary service clubs are in over 90 countries.

I also spoke to 80 Iowa Rotarians at a Toronto convention breakfast and handed out a 3-page document I authored titled “What your club can do to fight human trafficking”. Here is a link to this paper:  What Your Rotary Club Can Do to Fight Human Trafficking

Even if you are not a Rotarian, advocates might want to look at this information to get ideas of how you could partner with a service club for a local anti-trafficking project. There is also information on how to access RAGAS and to receive an international anti-slavery newsletter.

While I was at the Toronto Rotary International Conference, the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report was released by the U.S. State Department. The full 486 page report can be accessed at

2018-trafficking-in-persons-reportThis is a detailed country-by-country report which captures the challenges governments across the globe face in fighting human trafficking. The annual report rates each nation’s efforts to combat this growing crime that touches every corner of the world. Governments have the primary responsibility to combat sex and labor trafficking, which is why each nation’s government efforts are analyzed and described in detail. However, the report acknowledges that national governments cannot succeed alone and that actions by local non-profits, faith-based organizations, schools, and businesses are critical to effective anti-trafficking efforts. Therefore, this year’s report also focuses on effective ways local communities can address trafficking proactively and on how national governments can support and empower them.

The report serves as a resource and a roadway for each country to improve anti-trafficking efforts. While this year’s report underscores challenges and gaps in each nation’s efforts, it also shares significant progress through victim-centered and trauma-informed anti-trafficking policies which are spreading across the globe.

The US section of the report begins on page 442. While it’s well worth reading, I thought that it would help if I summarized the highlights and recommendations below:

  1. Although the U.S. government meets the minimum standards, anti-trafficking advocates continued to report that U.S. victim services were not always provided equitably, urging an increase in resources for, and equitable access to, comprehensive services across the country.
  2. Advocates reported a lack of sustained effort to address labor trafficking compared to sex trafficking, and also reported continued instances of state and local officials detaining or prosecuting trafficking victims of criminal activity related to their trafficking victimization.
  3. State laws form the basis of most criminal actions in the United States. All U.S. states and territories have anti-trafficking criminal statutes. 39 states now have vacatur laws allowing survivors to seek a court order vacating or expunging criminal convictions entered against them that resulted from their trafficking situation, and at least 34 states had “safe harbor” laws. (FYI, Iowa does not have a safe harbor law and the NAHT is preparing to push for this in the 2019 Iowa legislature.)
  4. Increased screening procedures to improve identification of trafficking victims particularly among populations vulnerable to human trafficking, including at-risk youth, LGBT individuals, and American-Indians and Alaska Natives.
  5. Enhance trafficking-related prevention efforts in temporary worker programs in the United States.
  6. Increase collaboration between law enforcement, service providers, and survivors, including in preparation for enforcement actions.
  7. Development of best practices for survivor services.
  8. The report called for improvements in data collections and reporting related to law enforcement actions to ensure accuracy, including by separating data on human trafficking from other crimes.
  9. Advocates continued to report state and local authorities arrested trafficking victims for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, including in massage parlors and drug trafficking, and in some states with “safe harbor” laws even children were arrested.
  10. Non-profit agencies and survivor advocates continued to report insufficient access to shelter and long-term transitional housing options for trafficking victims, especially men, boys, and LGBT individuals, and called for increased access to long-term services.
  11. NGOs reported increased obstacles to obtaining an immigrant’s T visa, noting a rising number of requests for additional evidence by adjudicators, including requests that referred to outdated regulations, and called for improved training for adjudicators. T visas allow foreign nationals identified by law enforcement as trafficking victims who may be potential witnesses to remain lawfully and work in the United States during the investigation and prosecution of the crime.
  12. Advocates called for specialized training for law enforcement and service providers on the linkage between substance use and human trafficking, including the use of drugs to coerce victims. NGOs commended government efforts to improve the identification of child sex trafficking victims within the child welfare system and called for expansion of these efforts to include identification of labor trafficking victims.
  13. Advocates urged a victim-centered approach to immigration enforcement that would ensure foreign trafficking victims are not deterred from reporting their trafficking situation to law enforcement or from seeking help from service providers.
  14. Advocates called for improved screening protocols to prevent the removal or deportation of trafficking victims, and reported cases where immigration officials allegedly detained or deported individuals displaying key indicators of trafficking, including cases reported where immigrants were taken into custody when seeking protection at specialized human trafficking courts.

The bottom line of the report is this: the world is failing to have an impact on addressing this global transnational crime against humanity. It isn’t about any one country not doing its part; it is the entire world that needs to accept responsibility. Clearly, much more needs to be done. Combating trafficking is not merely a moral issue or one that affects the interests of our country and state but that threatens international peace and security worldwide.