What took you so long?

On Tuesday September 25, 2012 President Obama stated “our fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time…”[1] Yes Mr. President it is. My question to you though is why did it take you so long? You have failed to recognize human trafficking and modern day slavery up to this point in your presidency, four years after you were elected. Now as elections draw close you are “honored to be joined”[2] by those fighting for the cause. Those who have been working hour after hour, day after day, year after year to make their voices heard, to stand up for social justice and basic human rights that everyone deserves. Yet they have been ridiculed and silenced. You acknowledged the faith based organizations, the evangelicals, International Justice Mission, and the Catholic Church, the same Catholic Church that your administration denied a grant to, not once but twice. That grant allowed Bishops to aid victims of human trafficking and sex trafficking.[3] The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, under President Bush, had received a 5 year $19 million grant specifically for the aid of sex trafficking victims. The Bishops supplied medical and mental health services to survivors. Instead of renewing the Bishops grant your administration gave the grant to 3 other groups even though the Bishops had helped more than 2,700 victims. Congressman Darrell Issa disagreed with this decision, stating that the grant awards process was not followed. In fact one of the groups that received the grant scored 20 points lower on the scale than the Bishops.[4]  I am not sure I see you fighting human trafficking.

“So here in the United States, Congress should renew the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.”[5] Did you know that this act, signed by President Bush, ended in 2011? Therefor the U.S. has not had an act to protect, enhance, or combat trafficking in persons.[6]  Why was this law not renewed a year ago when you knew the act would no longer be affective? Why did it take you until September of your election year to urge Congress to renew the act? Not only has the law not been reinstated but just last week you gave seven countries, listed by the State Department for poor conditions on combating human trafficking, a pass on government-mandated sanctions. These countries included Libya and Saudi Arabia. You said it was in the “national interest” not to punish these countries ranked as the worst in fighting human trafficking.[7] I am not sure I understand the logic of your thinking. You say we must end modern day slavery that it is a tragedy, yet you give these countries, who are failing at eradicating this horrible institution, a pass.

As I was reading about your speech in the news on Wednesday I found a grave error in USA Today’s article and then in your speech as I reviewed it.[8] You stated that the first ever annual trafficking report of the US will be conducted. This is false. The first report was published last year in 2011 by Shared Hope International. Shared Hope produced the Protected Innocence Initiative which looked at existing laws in each state and the District of Colombia to see if the laws promoted zero tolerance for child sex trafficking. The PII, which is now called the Protected Innocence Challenge or PIC, graded each state on their existing laws based on 1)the criminalization of domestic minor sex trafficking 2)criminal provisions addressing demand (the person buying sex from a minor) 3) criminal provisions for traffickers 4) criminal provisions for facilitators (taxi drivers, hotels…) 5)protective provisions for the child victim and 6)criminal justice tools for investigators and prosecution.[9] The states were then graded from A to F based solely on the established laws, not the implementation of the laws. There were no A’s, 4 B’s, 5 C’s 14 D’s and the rest of the sates had F’s. In fact D.C. received and F.[10] Not only did SHI do extensive grading, they went to each individual state with recommendations for how they should change their laws to make them better. Just this week I was working with our Senior Director to reevaluate the states from the laws that they had passed in the last year. So no, Mr. President your administration is not the first to do an assessment of the problem of human trafficking in the states (if you would like to see what your state grade is click on this link and look on page 12 or 13 http://www.sharedhope.org/Portals/0/Documents/Report%20Cards_FINAL/PII_ChallengeReport_FINAL2.pdf).

This past Saturday I was part of an amazing gathering of close to 2,000 people all working to fight modern day slavery. The Stop Modern Slavery Walk began at 12 on Saturday there were survivors of modern day slavery speaking, music, and booths from organizations all over the U.S. who have been working endlessly for years to stop modern slavery.

Shamere, survivor of sex trafficking and I at the walk on Saturday.

With just this walk $87,094 were raised to help fund these NGO’s and next year’s walk. I believe that survivor Shamere, who I have the privilege to work with, said it best in her short speech. It is people like us at Shared Hope, those 1,800 people who joined in the walk, the NGO’s, writers, artists, and survivors that are doing the most to fight slavery. She wants to know how victims will be helped when the TVPA has not yet been singed. She wants to know how victims will be restored when you are only giving $6 million for the whole country when that can hardly help one state.

So you can see, Mr. President, why I believe that you have failed to fight human trafficking and modern slavery.

[1] Obama, Barack. “Remarks by the President to the Clinton Global Initiative,” Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers, New York NY, September 25, 2012.

[2] Remarks by the President to the Clinton Global Initiative

[3] Ertelt, Steven. “Obama hits human trafficking canceled Bishops’ grant over abortion.” LifeNews.com, September 25, 2012. http://www.lifenews.com/2012/09/25/obama-hits-human-trafficking-but-canceled-bishops-grant-over-abortion/

[4] Ibid

[5] Remarks by the President to the Clinton Global Initiative

[6] Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2008, H.R. 7311, Congress, Second Session.

[7] Boyer, Dave, and Susan Crabtree. “Obama garbles U.S. history in human trafficking speech.” The Washington Times, September 25, 2012.

[8] Alcindor, Yamiche. “Sex trafficking in the USA hits close to home.” USA Today, September 26, 2012. http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012/09/26/human-trafficking-in-the-united-states-finds-a-home-in-the-schoolyard/57846054/1.

[9] The Protected Innocence Challenge: State Report Cards on the Legal Framework of Protection for the Nation’s Children. Arlington, VA: Shared Hope International, 2011.

[10] The Protected Innocence Challenge:State Report CArds on teh Legal Framework of Protection for the Nation’s Children. Arlington, VA: Shared Hope International, 2011.