The U.S. Department of State recently released their 2022 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, one of the most comprehensive resources on government anti-trafficking efforts. This annual report evaluates and ranks countries’ anti-trafficking policies, details inspiring stories of advocates, and dives into best practices and recommendations to combat exploitation.
We dug into the TIP report and have highlighted notable global trends and U.S. efforts to prosecute, protect, and prevent trafficking–including the crucial role of community members and organizations such as Greenlight Operation in eradicating modern-day slavery.
Human trafficking remains an extensive, serious threat to freedom globally
An estimated 25 million people are currently victims of labor and sex trafficking. Through human trafficking prosecuted cases alone, over 90,000 individuals were identified in 2021.
Human trafficking characteristics vary across regions, with 18 countries committing worse human trafficking violations from previous years. For instance, 11 countries engage in state-sponsored trafficking, subjecting their own people–sometimes in retaliation for political expressions–into sexual slavery or forced labor schemes. Other countries continue to allow or directly use children as soldiers or for illicit services, such as sexual slavery.
American anti-trafficking efforts continue to expand, but needed improvements remain
Trafficker profile in the U.S.
Human traffickers exploit victims in every American state and territory. Victims come from almost every region of the world and are forced to engage in commercial sex and a range of illicit and legal industries, including hospitality, agriculture, construction, manufacturing, salons, retail, drug distribution, child care, and domestic work.
Traffickers often target those who experience compounding forms of discrimination and vulnerabilities such as homelessness, foster care, incarceration, and immigration. Notably and disturbingly, more and more victims are exploited by family or intimate partners, and traffickers increasingly use social media to recruit and advertise victims.
Federal anti-trafficking efforts
The federal government recently launched a three-year National Action Plan to strengthen trafficking prosecution, enhance victim protection, and prevent the crime from occurring within our borders and abroad. Through federal grants and new policies aiming to protect victims from exploitation, the U.S. has increased the number of victims served. However, the pandemic has spurred both an increase in trafficking and the costs of providing services–leaving many advocates without enough funding.
Key federal take-aways include:
- In 2021, three federal agencies–the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and Defense–opened over 1,800 investigations of human trafficking cases.
- The government is prosecuting sex trafficking in a targeted effort to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Similarly, targeting online platforms used by sex traffickers is proving a critical strategy to disrupt trafficking operations and to identify and assist victims.
- Congress passed laws penalizing federal officers coercing sexual acts from people in their custody and worked to improve efforts to stop imports made with forced labor.
Recommendations to prevent trafficking and serve victims
Survivors must increasingly inform and drive the anti-human trafficking network
Numerous interventions have enhanced anti-trafficking efforts, and survivor engagement is the crux of these efforts. Survivors of human trafficking understand–through their own unique and traumatic experiences–trafficker tactics, the obstacles that survivors face as they pursue freedom, and the needed support for rebuilding their lives. When anti-trafficking efforts first emerged, minimal resources existed to meet survivors’ unique needs, let alone integrate their feedback and provide leadership opportunities. Luckily, the public, private, and nonprofit anti-trafficking movement has increasingly empowered and partnered with survivors. Emerging best practices include:
- Properly compensating survivors for their speaking engagements and work forming policies, programs, outreach materials, and trainings.
- Developing and executing policies, programming, and public awareness efforts to be victim-centered and survivor- and trauma-informed.
- Using ethical storytelling that respects survivors’ autonomy and consent.
- Including survivors in decision-making and leadership.
Leveraging data to fight trafficking
Improved data collection is helping advocates to better track cases, allocate resources, and measure the effectiveness of anti-trafficking policies. This requires integrating technology innovations (such as apps) from the private sector and sharing information across public and private sectors.
Of particular note, data can be used to understand the impact of anti-trafficking work, such as whether legislation is effective and survivors are enjoying more opportunities and support.
Ending the penalization of victims
Despite these advances, the TIP authors reveal that survivors lack adequate protections and continue to be arrested for unlawful acts their traffickers forced them to commit.
It is crucial for policymakers in all states, including Pennsylvania, to not prosecute victims for crimes their traffickers forced upon them. They should further increase restitution offered to victims who have already been penalized for such acts, including vacating victims’ convictions and expunging their records.
Bringing improved accountability in labor supply chains
The report highlights a continued lack of progress to comprehensively address labor trafficking.
Governments must hold all entities accountable for their part in human trafficking. While no industry is immune, labor trafficking is extensively documented in industries such as hospitality, agriculture, domestic work, and manufacturing. Businesses must diligently address the exploitation that occurs within their supply chains.
Improving access to housing and specialized services for all victims
The pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing housing constraints. Organizations often focus on crisis intervention rather than long-term, holistic care–leaving survivors with few housing options. Advocates also note the dire need for increased survivor access to mental health services, childcare, and economic empowerment opportunities.
Combating national complicity in domestic and international corruption
Research from the United Nations finds that trafficking in persons cannot occur on a large scale without corruption within governments. In late 2021, the U.S Strategy on Countering Corruption was launched to better understand and respond to the transnational dimensions of corruption and reduce the ability of corrupt actors to use the U.S. and international financial systems to hide assets and launder their illicit proceeds.
The private sector also has a role to play, helping to increase digital expertise and new technology, and developing effective internal controls, ethics, and compliance measures to prevent and detect bribery and trafficking within supply chains.
The indispensable role of collaboration locally and across sectors
The 2022 TIP report shows that, through diplomacy, coordination, advocacy, and commitment across sectors and governments, human trafficking can be stopped. And it is within local communities and personal relationships that human trafficking prevention can thrive and survivors can achieve life-long freedom.
- Nonprofits can lead this charge by empowering the voice of survivors. No former victim of trafficking should ever be used or retraumatized by organizations, no matter the mission. Greenlight Operation shares this perspective to respectfully and responsibly engage survivors, while also providing the long-term housing the TIP underscores are desperately needed in every community.
- Similarly, the TIP report identified how employers can offer skills training, employment, and competitive wages for survivors, helping propel them to self-sustainability.
- Lastly, global human trafficking trends show the promise of partnerships between the public, private, and nonprofit sector. They can form advisory councils and trainings to drive forward effective anti-trafficking policies and organizational frameworks.
Greenlight Operation is passionate about collaboration. Already, we’ve offered trainings across numerous sectors and worked with county and state agencies, first responders, front line workers, educators, and local community leaders and businesses to prevent exploitation and offer aid to victims.
We must all partner together to combat human trafficking. No matter the location or type of trafficking, every individual deserves the chance at a free, flourishing life of safety and self-sufficiency.