Mrs. McCain’s written testimony for the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing on the effect the Trafficking Victims Protection Act has had in addressing sex and labor trafficking around the world.
Thank you Congressman McGovern, Congressman Smith and other members of the Commission for holding this public hearing on the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). I am so grateful for your decades of leadership on this important issue and I am delighted to submit written testimony to add to today’s discussion.
As the chair of the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University and co-chair of the Arizona Human Trafficking Council, I have made it my top priority to elevate the discourse about human trafficking and modern slavery. Through training and raising awareness, increased penalties for traffickers, improved trauma-informed care for survivors, and innovative partnerships between NGOs, service providers, state agencies, law enforcement and others, we are working together like never before to stop human trafficking.
Today, the McCain Institute is making significant strides to combat human trafficking in my home state of Arizona, across the United States, and around the world. In Arizona, we support “the collaborative,” a coordinated effort among law enforcement, NGOs, healthcare insurance providers, and courts to improve outcomes for sex trafficking survivors. In Texas, we are working with the Howard G. Buffett Foundation to address forced labor in the agricultural sector. Nationally, our team is working with the National Network for Youth to train Runaway and Homeless Youth services providers on how to work with youth who are at-risk or have experienced exploitation. Globally, we are uniting the next generation of human trafficking activists and advocates through our Student Alliance Against Trafficking program.
There is still great progress to be made in the global response to human trafficking. In many places, victims continue to suffer with little recourse, while traffickers exploit with near certain impunity. I am hopeful and optimistic that by staying committed to each of the three ‘P’s’ — Prosecution, Protection and Prevention — we will make great strides in next 2o years in combatting this crime.
Earlier this year, Polaris announced that human trafficking cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline increased by 25 percent from 2017 to 2018, with 10,949 cases of human trafficking reported in 2018—the highest number in a single year since Polaris began operating the National Hotline in 2007. Nonetheless, in 2018, the federal government initiated 171 new criminal prosecutions (only 8 were predominantly labor trafficking cases), representing a 29% decrease in the number of initiated cases, down from 241 new criminal cases in 2017.
Unfortunately, investigations are also down. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice opened 657 trafficking investigations, down from 783 in 2017.
This same troubling trend has been observed globally as well. Recent U.S. Department of State data indicates there were 11,096 criminal prosecutions for human trafficking worldwide in 2018 (and only 457 of those were for forced labor), down from 17,471 prosecutions in 2017. This is a decrease of more than six thousand cases in one short year! We must reverse this trend and do so quickly.
While the root causes of human trafficking relate to large systemic conditions such as poverty, inequality, homelessness and migration, the dynamics that facilitate human trafficking in each particular community are often unique. For this reason, a meaningful justice sector response must include not only national efforts, but focused, well-funded efforts at the state and local level.
Such efforts should include advanced training for state and local law enforcement and prosecutors, and funding for specialized human trafficking units made up of prosecutors, investigators, and victim support personnel. Putting such units in place at the state and local level will support increased human trafficking investigations and prosecutions in our communities.
In the 20 years since the adoption of the TVPA, programs to provide social and legal services to survivors of human trafficking have increased considerably and there is now nearly universal understanding of the importance of victim-centered services and survivor leadership in policy setting and program implementation.
I am troubled, however, by recent decreases in the number of T visa and other immigration remedies made available for human trafficking survivors. The T visa is an invaluable resource for foreign-born survivors of labor or sex trafficking, providing safety and economic stability through work authorization for survivors and their families.
Looking to the recommendations put forth by the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, we must also provide opportunities for survivors of human trafficking to spearhead and lead anti-trafficking programs, both domestically and abroad. Additionally, we need to provide financial and other support to groups currently led by survivors.
I applaud the many stellar prevention education programs and I am encouraged to see so many states requiring prevention education for our nation’s youth. The McCain Institute is working with many nonprofits in Arizona and across the United States to help the next generation resist exploitation, for both labor and sex. But we must remember that prevention education will not fully prevent human trafficking without tackling upstream issues.
We must be steadfast in working as a community – and nation – to address the factors that increase vulnerabilities to human trafficking, such as the lack of access to social services, weak oversight of foster care systems and visa programs, and inadequate attention to youth homelessness, among others.
It is also time we work harder on going after buyers. As we all know, without demand, there would be no need for supply. I have said it many times, and it remains true, drugs or guns can be sold once, a victim of sex trafficking can be exploited and sold thousands of times. The financial gain for traffickers can be enormous and the trauma and devastation to young lives is catastrophic.
Disrupting and dismantling the systems that fuel human trafficking will require true partnerships between government entities, the NGO community, and the private sector. Only by working together will the United States fully embrace the truth that labor must not be forced and that people are not for sale. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to submit this statement.