Human trafficking is one of the most severe and rampant violations of human rights in our world today.
Throughout the last thirteen years of my professional career working within international and U.S.-domestic anti-trafficking work, I’ve had the opportunity to bear witness to the realities of this injustice in the lives of the most vulnerable. From testimonies given by domestic workers in East Africa to stories recounted by male fishermen in Thailand and homeless teens right here in the United States, the issue is as pervasive as it is complex, misunderstood, and under-resourced. Effective, sustainable responses require swift action from people and organizations at all levels of public life: governmental and non, public and private, communal and individual.
In 2023 alone, The Exodus Road has worked alongside law enforcement in six countries combatting cases of organ trafficking, forced labor, the Online Sexual Exploitation of Children (OSEC), and commercial sex trafficking cases involving male, female, and gender-nonconforming survivors of a sweeping variety of backgrounds and ages. We see time and again that human trafficking exploits the most vulnerable.
In the digital world especially, we see this exploitation multiplying at an alarming rate.
In the Philippines, our team of trained investigators supported federal police with intelligence gathering after a tip was received detailing the suspected exploitation of multiple minors for the purpose of the creation of Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM). National law enforcement became aware of the illegal material, and they asked for The Exodus Road’s support in building a case. Our team found and collected information on the situation’s details, uncovering evidence that the children were likely physically abused to keep them compliant with the horrific exploitation.
When law enforcement took action, they removed one boy and five girls. All of the children were being abused and exploited by a boyfriend and girlfriend in a house in the Philippines. The perpetrators were streaming child sexual abuse to U.S. buyers, who paid a fee to watch online.
Again – this crime is global, pervasive, and complex. We must be responding to it, on all fronts, here within our own borders and around the world.
I serve alongside a team of committed international staff on the frontlines of the fight against modern slavery, and the leadership and support championed by policymakers in this arena continue to be paramount for the success of our teams, who are engaged daily in anti-trafficking work.
The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2023 (H.R. 5856), introduced by Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), is a crucial bill. It extends current funding for anti-trafficking programs, bolsters survivor support, and strengthens global partnerships against trafficking.
As CEO of The Exodus Road, I view this bill as perfectly aligned with our mission here at The Exodus Road: to partner with law enforcement to fight human trafficking crime, equip communities to protect the vulnerable, and empower survivors as they walk into freedom.
H.R. 5856 is a robust response to a complex crisis. The renaming of existing Health and Human Services (HHS) grants to the more appropriate and meaningful “Frederick Douglass Human Trafficking Prevention Education Grants” empowers the focus of vital resources for training school personnel and other critical workers to recognize and prevent child trafficking in their everyday. These grants are vital for building a knowledgeable community that can identify and respond to trafficking threats.
Moreover, H.R. 5856 introduces a human trafficking survivors’ employment and education program, authorizing HHS to collaborate with NGOs to provide comprehensive services to survivors. These services can include housing assistance, mental health care, educational support, job skills training, and more. It’s this manner of holistic, collaborative support that is essential if survivors are to rebuild their lives.
The bill also extends grants, improves tier standards for evaluating countries’ efforts against trafficking, and enhances USAID’s prevention efforts. It ensures that development and humanitarian aid do not inadvertently contribute to trafficking and includes reports to monitor organ harvesting for the purpose of trafficking.
In the realm of funding, H.R. 5856 is a commitment to sustained action, authorizing significant funds for State Department J/TIP and diplomatic programs, HHS prevention and victim assistance efforts, and Department of Justice victim protection services – including authorizing for the first time, housing assistance for trafficking victims.
This legislation is a comprehensive step to addressing a new global reality as it relates to human trafficking. A thoughtful response to the crime is not only concerned with moments of intervention — it’s about creating systemic change, empowering survivors on their pathway to healing, and preventing future trafficking from ever taking place.
We stand in 2024 at a critical juncture in the fight against human trafficking. The passage of H.R. 5856 is an imperative step requiring urgency for Congressional action that cannot be overstated. I urge our U.S. congressional leaders to act swiftly and decisively to pass H.R. 5856.
To the ordinary individual: I’ve seen the power of everyday advocacy push forward the cause of justice in a host of arenas. I would compel you to take time to engage and advocate for the passing of this bill. Call your congressional representatives, email them, and declare your support for H.R. 5856.
More than 27M individuals around our globe (U.S. State Department) and as many as 1.1M here in the United States (Global Slavery Index) are asking if anyone sees the darkness and abuse they are forced to experience every day. This is your opportunity to not only shine a light that reveals injustice but also to take action that can result in freedom, hope, and healing.