July 24, 2015
The Honorable Shaun Donovan
Office of Management and Budget
Executive Office of the President
725 17th St, NW
Washington, DC 20503
Dear Director Donovan,
On behalf of the undersigned, we respectfully request that you advise the President to reconsider current and future Federal spending on efforts to address Trafficking in Persons in the United States and abroad due to our belief that the prevailing anti-trafficking strategy is off track. This opinion is derived from our concerns that, while focusing the majority of resources on programs for the rescue and restoration of victims, there has been little or no investment on a long-term vision to change the paradigm of human trafficking through prevention initiatives. Additionally, we’re concerned about a lack of attention being paid to trafficking in US communities.
The anti-trafficking strategy has been flawed since its inception. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-386), the main vehicle for informing legislators, civil society and the public about this burgeoning crime, misidentified the provenance of the most pervasive forms of human trafficking within the US. TVPA 2000 described the transnational threat as follows: “At least 700,000 persons annually, primarily women and children, are trafficked within or across international borders. Approximately 50,000 women and children are trafficked into the United States each year.” Policy was built around these words and, even though the estimates of foreign trafficking victims in the US were dialed down dramatically, the policy of focusing primarily on foreign victims remained.
TVPA 2000 failed to describe for legislators the most pressing threat of the trafficking born in our own communities. By overemphasizing the international challenge, TVPA 2000 obscured the reality of trafficking in America and even helped to engender a popular perception of human trafficking similar, if not precisely, to that portrayed in the fictional film, Taken.
We must be able to look at the challenges in our own backyard with a critical eye and venture to fix them. Had the analysis of TVPA 2000 or any of the subsequent reauthorizations more accurately defined the problem in the US, a functioning and robust strategy for prevention may have already been in place.
The stated “fundamental framework” for addressing human trafficking worldwide was formed by the “3 Ps”: Prevention, Protection, Prosecution and – later adding the 4th P - Partnerships. Yet the US has mostly ignored prevention unless one can define a prevention strategy with sporadic billboard and PSA awareness campaigns. We do not define prevention this way since those campaigns generally seek the public’s support in identifying victims and reporting to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. This is intervention.
Trainings for law enforcement, prosecutors and health professionals certainly impacts prevention but that’s not enough. Requesting investment for homeless youth programs is a big step in the right direction, but those programs would not reach general populations of youth. $2 million requested for the US Dept. of Education to research a model of human trafficking curriculum does nothing to meet the demand for programming now. What’s more, no one knows better than the Dept. of Education that one size does not fit all when it comes to curriculum and the methodology for delivering it. Finally, the Dept. of Education knows there are many excellent examples of curricula being used today.
Frederick Douglass once said that, “knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.” We consider the organized and sustained dissemination of knowledge through educational institutions, faith institutions and other grassroots community institutions as a sensible prevention strategy. Preventing someone from being trafficked will not only eliminate an immeasurable degree of pain and suffering on the part of a victim, but it reduces the heavy burden of cost for services to rescue and restore that person. The current anti-trafficking strategy is focused primarily on what happens after someone is victimized. Without a substantial prevention strategy, there is nothing to interrupt the cycle of new victims coming in and out of the system. Developing an educational framework that makes young people unfit to be exploited through human trafficking (and unwilling to exploit others) requires a commitment to do so then an investment to fund that commitment.
We request that the US stop and reevaluate our approach to spending on Trafficking in Persons. We request that the US adjust the anti-trafficking strategy to reflect the current, more nuanced understanding of the problem. We request that the US demonstrate competence in managing solutions at home before making considerable commitments to managing human trafficking solutions abroad. We request that the US place more emphasis on prevention to end the cycle of human trafficking.