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U.S. Agencies Combine Efforts to Fight Human Trafficking
March 16, 2012

By Jane Morse
IIP Staff Writer

A poster about human trafficking
A poster at a travel center in Tennessee urges truck drivers to join the fight against human trafficking.

Efforts to end human trafficking are getting a big boost, thanks to increased cooperation among U.S. government agencies.

“Instead of a muddle of agencies claiming or rejecting different responsibilities,” said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, “we have in place in the Obama administration efficient, coordinated anti-trafficking teams. And they’re making investigations more effective and helping victims.”

Clinton met at the White House March 15 with top officials from the departments of Justice, Labor, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Defense, Transportation, and Education as well as several other agencies for the annual meeting of the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The task force was authorized by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 to coordinate federal efforts to combat human trafficking.

Around the world, some 27 million men, women and children are enslaved for labor or sexual exploitation, Clinton said. “We’re trying to ensure that resources and support are available to victims wherever we find them.”

Among the accomplishments reported for the last year:

• Prosecutions of human traffickers increased 30 percent over the past three years and several criminal networks that were trafficking women in the United States were dismantled, according to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

• Improvements were made to the guest worker program to ensure that workers know their rights, according to Hilda Solis, secretary of labor.

• Intensified training programs and awareness campaigns have resulted in a 40 percent increase in calls to the trafficking hotline operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, according to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. With 16,000 calls in the last year and 800 cases reported to law enforcement, “people are now aware there is someplace to go for help,” Sebelius said.

• The “Blue Campaign” is leading to an ever increasing number of tips and investigations of traffickers, according to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. The campaign, which was designed to help train law enforcement to better recognize the signs of trafficking, is now training airline and fire department personnel who may encounter victims, Napolitano said.

• To insure that the U.S. transportation system is not an enabler for human trafficking, the Department of Transportation is operating an awareness campaign aimed at commercial truck drivers as well as personnel working at the nation’s railroads, according to John Porcari, deputy secretary of transportation.

Clinton said the State Department provides grants in some 37 countries to support programs that assist trafficking survivors and help governments build capacity to fight this crime.

“Thanks to our leadership,” Clinton said, “the international community is getting behind the effort. Nearly 140 countries now have enacted modern anti-trafficking laws, and nearly 150 are party to the U.N. Trafficking in Persons Protocol.”

In a statement released by the White House regarding the task force meeting, President Obama called human slavery an “affront to human dignity.”

“The United States is committed to eradicating trafficking in persons,” the president said, “and we will draw on tools ranging from law enforcement and victim service provision, to public awareness building and diplomatic pressure. Because we know that government efforts are not enough, we are also increasing our partnerships with a broad coalition of local communities, faith-based and non-governmental organizations, schools, and businesses.”

“I am confident that we will one day end the scourge of modern slavery,” Obama said, “because I believe in those committed to this issue: young people, people of faith and station, Americans who refuse to accept this injustice and will not rest until it is vanquished.”