America needs an ambassador to combat human trafficking, and we need it now

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This article originally appeared in The Hill. You can read it at its primary source here.

By Kristen Leanderson Abrams and Corban Teague

Last year, the United States celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act — the foundation for U.S. policy to combat human trafficking — and the Palermo Protocol — the UN’s framework to address trafficking worldwide. While we have seen unquestionable progress in the fight against trafficking over this period, there is more to do. Twenty-five million people are estimated to be victims of sex or labor trafficking, and the risk of exploitation continues to grow as traffickers take advantage of vulnerabilities caused by the pandemic, economic duress, and forced migration. This is why swift action is needed by the Biden administration to fill a role that will be critical to continuing the fight against human trafficking.

A small office in the United States Department of State, known as the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP), leads our nation’s international counter-trafficking efforts. It is vital the Biden administration prioritize nominating an ambassador-at-large to lead this office. Over the past two decades, the United States has had a number of strong J/TIP ambassadors from both parties who have helped established our country as a global leader in the fight against trafficking. However, as multiple crises exacerbate vulnerabilities worldwide, we risk losing decades worth of progress. U.S. and international efforts will benefit greatly from having a confirmed ambassador to prioritize anti-trafficking efforts, with three specific areas that demand the new ambassador’s immediate and sustained focus.

First, the ambassador should commit unequivocally to a comprehensive approach rooted in a combination of prevention efforts, protection of survivors, and prosecution of perpetrators. In particular, the new ambassador should increase the office’s focus on prevention. These efforts must tackle the root causes that make people more vulnerable to exploitation and incorporate a systemic lens that addresses issues like racism, misogyny, and economic inequality. Equally critical is the protection of survivors of human trafficking. In developing these efforts, the new ambassador must draw from the insights of survivors, including those on the U.S. Advisory Council for Human Trafficking. Additionally, the new ambassador should advocate domestically and internationally for more vigorous criminal enforcement, while forcefully pushing for improvements in how trafficking investigations and prosecutions are conducted. As documented in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report), there are still too few prosecutions of traffickers, particularly in labor trafficking cases, but reforms are also needed, including ensuring victims are never prosecuted.

Second, the incoming ambassador should ensure the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report remains an indispensable tool in the fight against human trafficking. The TIP Report has long been the standard for analyzing global efforts to address trafficking, but it is only effective if it is credible. While most of the report is noncontroversial, there have been several high-profile cases in which non-trafficking considerations, such as trade or national security, have impacted the report. These other factors are certainly important considerations to U.S. foreign policy, but the report must remain strictly a straightforward analysis of global counter-trafficking efforts. There should never be a question about the report being unduly influenced by political pressures. Any doubt around the report’s reliability undermines the data, the office’s credibility, and most importantly the ability to combat trafficking globally.

Publish Date
June 1, 2021
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