The crime of human trafficking happens to people from all walks of life here in the United States. We see past federal cases as concrete evidence. Human trafficking happens to men and to women, to boys and to girls. It happens to US citizens who were born and grew up in the United States, and it happens to people born in other countries who have migrated here to the United States. It happens to people who speak English and to people who don’t. It happens to people from affluent backgrounds, and to people who grew up in poverty. Put simply, it can happen to anyone.
Knowing the vast diversity of the experiences of trafficked persons, our challenge as a movement is to design an anti-trafficking response that is as equally nimble and open-minded as the traffickers are themselves. If the traffickers are greedy and willing to take the risks to enslave just about anyone, our movement needs to be ready to protect everyone.
Despite this fairly straightforward concept, it’s frustrating to see where and when our movement falls short of this simple truth. For example, one would think that we could create an all-inclusive annual measure that counts anyone who experiences the crime of human trafficking on US soil. But instead, our country’s annual number of “certified” victims only counts foreign-born immigrant victims in the United States, leaving no consistent centralized measure of “certified” US citizen victims, and no all-inclusive measure of both groups. Why exclude US citizen victims from the “certified” stamp of approval from the US government? The longer we do, the longer we low-ball the total number of “certified” victims discovered in the US each year.
In another example, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) authorizes federal dollars for the creation of “comprehensive victim service programs” to serve various geographic regions in the United States. But then, we’ve clipped the wings of these programs with requirements that they can only serve foreign-born immigrant victims with their anti-trafficking grant dollars. If a US citizen experiences “severe forms of trafficking in persons” in one of these areas where there is a grant program with the resources and know-how to protect them, they must be turned away at the door. Why is the restriction necessary, and how “comprehensive” can these programs truly be if they are not able to offer services to every victim that comes to their door?
We’re facing a time that calls for inclusivity and open-mindedness in our anti-trafficking response. It should permeate all of our discussions and new initiatives. If the crime has various types, such as sex trafficking and forced labor, our task forces and victims service providers need to have their eyes open for both sex trafficking and forced labor. If the crime happens to both US citizens and foreign-born immigrants, then our counting measures and grant programs and government initiatives and laws must protect both US citizens and foreign-born immigrants who are victims of this crime.
The issue of human trafficking casts a big net because of its broad definition, which can be both a challenge and an opportunity for us. Let’s not squander the opportunity, and let’s think big enough to allow our movement to be a place for all victims to be served and to be recognized and to be counted.