How Does the U.S. Stack Up?

How Does the U.S. Stack Up?

As a country, the United States envisions itself as a leader in anti-human trafficking on a global scale.

The 2020 Trafficking in Persons report, compiled by the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Office, however, shines an honest light on where the United States is lacking in services, programming and policies.

The TIP report does put the U.S. in Tier 1, which is the best countries can achieve.

And while that is great, the narrative describing the U.S.’s work in combatting human trafficking offers so much to be desired.

There is much work left to do, and many policies that still actively harm survivors in this country.


The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is the U.S. Government’s principle diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking. It represents an updated, global look at the nature and scope of trafficking in persons and the broad range of governement actions to confront and eliminate it.
What is the TIP Report?
This year is the celebration of 20 years of the United States’ State Department releasing the Trafficking in Persons Report.

According to the U.S. State Department, the TIP report is “the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking. It is also the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-trafficking efforts and reflects the U.S. Government’s commitment to global leadership on this key human rights and law enforcement issue.”

The report offers profiles about the level of human trafficking happening in the countries around the world and how the government addresses it — or doesn’t address it — as well as recommendations for change.

As it turns out, the United States didn’t hold itself to the standard it held the rest of the world’s countries until 2010, when for the first time, the United States included itself in the TIP Report.

Ever since the Obama administration and the decision of the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at that time, the United States has been included in the TIP Report. While the TIP Report celebrates 20 years of existing, the U.S. can only laud 10 years of being included included in it.

US Meets Minimum Standards: Tier 1

U.S. is Tier 1 … but what does that mean?

The Tier 1 status means that the United States meets the minimum standards outlined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

So what does that mean, really?

“While Tier 1 is the highest ranking, it does not mean that a country has no human trafficking problem or that it is doing enough to address the problem. Rather, a Tier 1 ranking indicates that a government has made efforts to address the problem that meet the TVPA’s minimum standards. To maintain a Tier 1 ranking, governments need to demonstrate appreciable progress each year in combating trafficking. Indeed, Tier 1 represents a responsibility rather than a reprieve.”

2020 TIP Report

To expand on that a bit, the TIP looks at:

Enactment of laws prohibiting severe forms of trafficking and provision of criminal punishments for trafficking offenses
Implementation of human trafficking laws through vigorous prosecution of the prevalent forms of trafficking in the country and sentencing of offenders
Proactive victim identification measures with systematic procedures to guide law enforcement and other government-supported front-line responders in the process of victim identification
Government funding and partnerships with NGOs to provide victims with access to primary health care, counseling, and shelter, allowing them to recount their trafficking experiences to trained social counselors and law enforcement in an environment of minimal pressure
Victim protection efforts that include access to services and shelter without detention and with legal alternatives to removal to countries in which victims would face retribution or extent to which a government ensures victims are provided with legal and other assistance and that, consistent with domestic law, proceedings are not prejudicial to victims’ rights, dignity, or psychological well-being
The extent to which a government ensures the safe, humane, and to the extent possible, voluntary repatriation and reintegration of victims
Governmental measures to prevent human trafficking, including efforts to curb practices identified as contributing factors to human trafficking, such as employers’ confiscation of foreign workers’ passports and allowing labor recruiters to charge fees to prospective migrants
Governmental efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and international sex tourism.

While the U.S. government does many of these things that earns a Tier 1 designation, we would be remiss if we did not point out what the government desperately needs to improve on, what advocates and survivor leaders who work with human trafficking survivors are saying, and the actual recommendations of the TIP report.


The U.S. Decreases Protection Efforts for Survivors

While the government did increase funding for certain victim assistance programs, it is important to note that the victims who were served actually decreased.

Also, the number of victims granted T-visas declined (protection given to immigrant victims of human trafficking by the TVPA) and the government granted fewer certification letters providing access to benefits and services to foreign national adult victims of human trafficking.

Continued Presence requests remain low according to advocates. Continued presence requests — which are made by law enforcement agencies — is another form of protection offered to survivors of trafficking. NGOs called for an increase in collaboration and education for law enforcement to ensure that continued presence requests increase.

Also, should a victim of trafficking disclose that they paid a recruitment fee (which is unlawful under guest worker visa programs) then those survivors are immediately deported. This is harming survivors and preventing meaningful investigations into labor trafficking.

What are Advocates Saying?

Children are still being arrested for their own victimization

At least 35 states have safe harbor laws, which prevent child sex trafficking victims from being prosecuted for commercial sex. Even in some states, with safe harbor laws, children are being arrested for their own abuse.

Adult victims are still being arrested for their own victimization

Advocates are continuing to report victims are being arrested for acts that traffickers are compelling them to do. NGOs are also expressing concern about how law enforcement often threatens victims with arrest and criminal charges to compel them to cooperate with the investigation against the trafficker. (This compulsion is another form of abuse and exploitation against the victim).

In 2020: Trump Signs Anti-Trafficking Order as Victims’ Groups Boycott

Click to read news story from January 2020

All states need to vacate convictions of survivors

All U.S. states have some sort of anti-human trafficking criminal statutes. At least 35 states have safe harbor laws, which prevent child sex trafficking victims from being prosecuted for commercial sex. Advocates are continuing to report victims are being arrested for acts that traffickers are compelling them to do. NGO and survivor advocates are calling for adoption of federal legislation which result in vacating convictions of survivors who were compelled into criminal activity by the trafficker.


Other Weaknesses in the U.S. Government’s approach to Human Trafficking

RESTITUTION ORDERS NEED TO INCREASE
Advocates are continuing to call for federal prosecutors to seek and the courts award MANDATORY restitution for both sex and labor trafficking cases, however, victim witnesses

LACK INDEPENDENT LEGAL COUNSEL TO ASSIST IN OBTAINING RESTITUTION ON THEIR BEHALF. INVESTIGATIONS INTO LABOR TRAFFICKING IS LACKING
Advocates say very few labor trafficking cases referred to law enforcement were ever investigated. They called for more training for those who investigate and try labor trafficking cases.

GOVERNMENTAL PRACTICE OF DENYING VISAS TO APPLICANTS WHO REPORT PAYING A RECRUITMENT FEE IS HARMFUL
Advocates say this dissuades applicants from reporting violations to authorities and allows unscrupulous employers and recruiters to continue operating without penalty. Advocates are calling for protections for workers who report paying these recruitment fees.

LACK OF SERVICES AVAILABLE FOR MEN, BOYS, LGBTI AND LABOR TRAFFICKING SURVIVORS

NEED FOR INCREASED ACCESS TO AFFORDABLE, TRAUMA-INFORMED HEALTH CARE AND MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES

INSUFFICIENT ACCESS TO HOUSING, INCLUDING TRANSITIONAL HOUSING AND LONG-TERM HOUSING OPTIONS FOR TRAFFICKING SURVIVORS

LACK OF SPECIALIZED SERVICES FOR NATIVE AMERICANS AND ALASKA NATIVES

LACK OF SPECIALIZED SERVICES FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES AND THE ELDERLY SURVIVORS OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING

CALL FOR IMPROVEMENT OF EDUCATION SERVICES, INCLUDING FINANCIAL EDUCATION AND RESOURCES, JOB TRAINING AND JOB PLACEMENT FOR SURVIVORS

INCREASED ACCESS TO TRAUMA-INFORMED CHILDCARE

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