Hope is the fuel that drives the movement to end modern slavery. After 2020, weary individuals and governments around the world need clarity on how to sustain hope. Given that January is “National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month,” it is a good time to consider a few ways that we can improve governments’ ability to stop traffickers, protect victims, and prevent this crime by disrupting systems that make it easier for traffickers to operate. During this season we must press into the hard work of implementing legal protections by strengthening public justice delivery systems.
Here are four strategic ways we can sustain hope for freedom in 2021:
Sustaining Hope Requires Adaptations
The COVID-19 virus and government shutdown orders dominated the narrative in 2020.Yet, traffickers did not shut down, and still they continue to ensure that victims are not free to choose where they live, how they work, or who touches their bodies. Traffickers are capitalizing on the chaos of the pandemic. We cannot shut down our efforts either.
It is not enough to explain why things are harder for victims, responders, and caregivers during the pandemic. We also need to adjust to these new circumstances. The status quo is insufficient, and we must launch ourselves beyond its gravitational pull. We must adapt to meet the moment. There are many smart innovators who are finding new ways to keep courtrooms safe and shelters operating. People are increasing efforts to respond to the rise in online sex trafficking. Together, we can fine-tune our interventions to overcome the challenges the virus and shutdowns have created. Adaptation can sustain hope.
Sustaining Hope through Increased Prosecutions
Holding the traffickers accountable for the crime they choose to commit honors the dignity and inherent value of victims. It also stops traffickers from harming others. In the last five years, governments have reported a 38% decline in trafficking prosecutions. Contrast that troubling pattern with the fact that governments reported identifying more victims last year than ever before. The failure to hold traffickers accountable makes human trafficking a “low risk – high reward” criminal endeavor. Although prosecutions alone will not end this crime, they are an essential element of a comprehensive approach. If we are to sustain hope, traffickers must no longer operate with impunity.
Sustaining Hope through Targeted Prevention
Effective prevention is more than raising awareness. It is more than efforts to reduce vulnerabilities through poverty alleviation, increasing education, or protections for refugees. These are noble and important efforts, but they are unlikely to change how traffickers operate. To be effective, prevention efforts must be targeted. For example, some unscrupulous employers wield recruitment fee debts as a weapon in their coercive schemes to force people to work. Shifting to an “employer pays” recruitment fee model removes that means of coercion and makes it more difficult for traffickers to operate. Likewise, dismantling sponsorship visa systems that tether a foreign worker’s immigration status to a specific employer is another promising prevention strategy. Workers would then be free to compete for better jobs without fear that their current boss might manipulate their immigration status to prevent them from quitting. Targeted prevention efforts will help us sustain hope.
Sustaining Hope through Protection
Caring for human trafficking survivors not only helps victim witnesses come forward and work with law enforcement, but it is simply the right thing to do. One way to care for survivors is to ensure that traffickers pay restitution to them as part of their sentence. Many countries around the world affirm the principle of restitution but struggle to follow through. In the United States, although the law mandates that federal courts order traffickers to pay restitution to their victims, only 40% of courts did so in 2019. Another way to protect victims is to make sure that governments are not prosecuting or penalizing victims for things their traffickers compelled them to do. We are seeing progress in these areas, but there remains a great deal of room for improvement. Taking protection seriously and engaging survivor leaders sustains hope.
This is a great time to be alive and engaged in this fight. We understand the problem better than we ever have before. More global resources are dedicated to this mission than ever before. Survivors are sharing their wisdom and taking up leadership roles. With our knowledge, resources, and survivor engagement, we can stop the traffickers who treat inherently valuable people as disposable commodities. The cause of freedom is worth our increased engagement, and our adaptations and action generate the hope we need to preserve in this global fight against human trafficking.
About the Author: John Cotton Richmond serves as Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.