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U.S. Urges More Services to Aid Victims of Human Trafficking
June 14, 2013

Human traffickers ensnare some 20 million people worldwide for the sex industry and for labor. Making the general public as well as the victims aware of this crime is essential for ending what has been called modern-day slavery, U.S. officials say.

By Jane Morse
IIP Staff Writer
June 13, 2013

“Trafficking victims should not be treated as criminals. We must help ensure that their needs are considered and that their stories are heard,” says Luis CdeBaca, a U.S. ambassador-at-large and director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

CdeBaca made his plea for more help for human trafficking victims at a June 10–11 high-level conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, conducted by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which says it is the world’s largest regional security organization, with 57 participating states in North America, Europe and Central Asia.

“If victims feel they cannot trust authorities, “ CdeBaca said, “or their decisions and actions are being judged, they are more likely to avoid these services and the criminal justice process altogether. This leads to insufficient or incomplete justice outcomes and increases the risk that the individual will return to the traffickers.“

Having victims step forward to accuse their traffickers is essential to ending the crime, said U.S. Representative Chris Smith, special representative of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. “The current-day risk to a trafficker of getting caught transporting a victim or victims is pathetically small. And they know that,” Smith said.

According to information provided by the U.S. delegation to the OSCE conference, there are roughly 6,000 trafficking prosecutions globally every year, but the number of trafficking victims worldwide is estimated to be 20 million. “This abysmal gap is intolerable and we must do everything we can to bridge it,” the U.S. delegation’s official statement said.

Prosecutions, however, cannot take place without first identifying the victims, according to the U.S. delegation statement. “Training for law-enforcement and first responders,” it said, “ is thus a necessary first step, as are effective referral mechanisms for protecting and assisting victims and protocols for cooperation between victim service providers and criminal justice agencies. “

Trafficking victims are prevented from revealing themselves due to fear, language barriers, physical trauma or a sense of powerlessness, the U.S. delegation statement said. Some trafficking victims may not even recognize that they are victims of a crime and have recourse, the statement said.

In September 2012, the Obama administration announced a comprehensive strategic action plan — the first of its kind in the United States — to help survivors of human trafficking in the United States get the support and services they need. As part of the effort, communities across the country are being enlisted to provide help to trafficking survivors. In addition, consumers and business are being made aware of supply chains tainted by exploitation and abuse of victims trafficked for labor.

Although the United States and many of the OSCE countries have national hotlines victims can call, a single, unified hotline available worldwide is necessary, according to Smith. “With a single trafficking hotline, travelers and transportation professionals can report suspected trafficking anytime, anywhere. A single hotline will assist victims anywhere, anytime,” he said.

“Combating modern-day slavery is everybody’s business,” Smith said. “Cooperation and coordination are key to mitigating — and someday ending — the cruelty of human trafficking.”

Learn more by reading the Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking

(PDF, 509KB) on the Department of Health and Human Services website and the White House press release, Obama Administration’s Record on Human Trafficking Issues, on the White House website.