Trafficking in Persons Report

Child Abuse As Government Policy - A Response To The 2019 TIP Report

Click through to see the full report

Click through to see the full report

There is a lot to be applauded in the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report launched on June 20 by the U.S. State Dept., but all of it is overshadowed by the abomination of the treatment of children currently taking place on the U.S.-Mexico border.  What an absurd policy clash: the TIP report rolled out the same week that the horrors on the border are exposed.  

To start, let’s review the good things in the report about U.S. government efforts to protect children from exploitation within the U.S.:

• It recognizes that U.S. children in the foster care system are vulnerable to traffickers and mentions a pilot program to identify children missing from foster care. Policy makers are beginning to understand and mitigate the conditions that make children vulnerable to trafficking, for example, living in an unstable family situation.  

• Appropriations for services for victims of human trafficking and child welfare systems have increased, which shows that there is an increased awareness that children need health care, education, and housing. 

• It is commendable that the report mentions the special needs of LGBTQ individuals - though there is a long way to go to set up systems that universally serve these youth.  

• 34 states have “safe harbor” laws that keep children from being arrested for the crime of prostitution. This is good but, keeping in mind that the movement to protect children from arrest for prostitution began in 2007 when the first of such a state law was passed, there appears to be a slowing of momentum in this movement. At this point in time, every state should provide a minimal level of protection to children who are sex trafficking victims.  

• Other good things: 1) there is increased funding for local human trafficking task forces  2) Backpage.com - which was highly targeted by traffickers - was taken down 3) The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) was reauthorized and strengthened again

However, alongside all these advancements, we cannot forget that on the border, children, including toddlers, are being held in detention without their parents - unfed, unwashed, overcrowded, and uncared for.  The emerging reports from these facilities describe conditions that would cause child welfare workers to call the police, remove the children and have the responsible parties arrested.  

This in-progress criminal behavior by U.S. government representatives lays the foundation for making these children vulnerable to trafficking in the future. Traffickers seek to recruit vulnerable, isolated children; children who do not have a safe and secure family setting to protect them; children who have been abused; poor children. The very TIP report itself demonstrates that U.S. government policymakers recognize this.  And yet it is also U.S. policies that are forcing children to live in inhumane conditions that will have long-term harmful impact on the healthy development and well-being of thousands of children and make them targets for traffickers. These two things exist side by side: good child protection policies moving forward as described in the TIP report and a hideous portrait of child abuse carried out by the same government. 

In response, ECPAT-USA has one more “Prioritized Recommendation” to add to the TIP Report: Don’t carry out mass detention of children under abusive conditions.   


2018 TIP Report: Good News, Bad News, and A Critical Oversight

Photo: 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report

Photo: 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report

Like most things in Washington, the annual release of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report was a good news/bad news story. On the positive front, Acting Director Kari Johnstone of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, appears to be a straight shooter. In past years, the annual Trafficking in Persons report has been subject to accusations of political influence. Countries that are of obvious interest to US diplomatic efforts appeared to be rated a bit better than circumstances on the ground warranted. So there was a lot of trepidation concerning the 2018 report -- the first organized by the Trump administration. Advocates feared that countries like Russia, whose leadership has been praised by the President, might get a softer rating than deserved. This was not the case. Russia remained listed as one of the egregious jurisdictions for human trafficking, joining the likes of Burma and North Korea.  

Additional good news could be found in continental progress. Africa, which has been cited in previous reports for profound difficulties in both labor and sex trafficking, saw the greatest improvement.  More than a quarter of the nations that were reported to have improved status in the trafficking report were found in Africa. Ghana in particular was singled out, and a representative program in Ghana received a “trafficking heroes” award at the ceremony. This elevated status in the State Department’s TIP report correlates with increased efforts by ECPAT International to find African partners to join our network, an effort that has met with real success.

But we cannot let the TIP report pass by without acknowledging an important oversight. In addition to analyzing the anti-trafficking programs of nearly every nation in the world, the TIP report also has a section devoted to the efforts of our own government. The theme of this year’s report is “Effective ways that local communities can address human trafficking proactively and how national governments can support and empower them” or more pithily described at the report rollout as “local solutions to a global problem.”  

However, one vitally important approach to preventing child sex trafficking, and child sexual exploitation generally, is the education of children. Disturbingly, the US section of the TIP report fails to mention this approach at all. The State Department’s omission highlights two concerns for ECPAT USA. First, education policy and curricula in the United States is decentralized and localized. In short, it is exactly the kind of “local solution to a global problem” that the State Department sought to highlight. However, that decentralization and localization makes identifying best practices very difficult and time consuming. Individual school districts across the country are beginning to consider the problem of human trafficking and how to best inoculate their students to the danger. However, while a wide variety of curricula exist, there has been no effort to create a central repository where education policy makers might turn to evaluate the sort of approach that might work best for their school district.  

ECPAT-USA_Education.jpg

Secondly, the TIP report’s neglect of child education emphasizes that the U.S. Department of Education is woefully absent from the national effort to combat trafficking. The Departments of Justice and State have always been at the forefront of Federal anti-trafficking efforts, but other agencies have also stepped up, like the Department of Homeland Security, and more recently the Department of Transportation. Meanwhile, one of the most fundamental tools in the Federal toolbox goes unutilized because there is effectively no element of the Department of Education tasked with confronting human trafficking.  

At ECPAT-USA, we are making the education of children a central part of our work. Because studies show that children in their teens consult with their peers, we seek to arm middle school and high school students with the facts about child trafficking. The aim of this outreach is to assist children in protecting themselves, and aiding them in talking to their friends and peers. Currently, ECPAT has a successful educational outreach program with three distinct workshops  in New York City Schools. Additionally, we have the Youth Against Child Trafficking (Y-ACT) program that empowers school children to take the lead in local anti-trafficking efforts. We have found that kids themselves make the most effective advocates in their communities, providing facts about risks and addressing the misconceptions around child sexual exploitation.

So we will continue our work with the U.S. State Department and the Federal Government to emphasize that education is the key to trafficking prevention. And beyond that advocacy mission, we will continue our work with local educators to help train as many kids as we can to avoid the risks of people seeking to exploit them.   

 

Banner image and gallery: 2018 TIP Report


Read the 2018 Trafficking in Persons report  here .

Read the 2018 Trafficking in Persons report here.

More Information

Read the U.S. State Department's 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report.

Visit our Youth Education page to learn more about Y-ACT and ECPAT-USA's youth initiatives.

View our latest PSA, #AnyKidAnySchool, which spotlights the problem of child sex trafficking in the U.S.

 

State Department Report Cites Trafficking Dangers of Family Separation

The State Department released its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report last Thursday, warning governments about the dangers of separating families and institutionalizing children. Within the past three months, 2,300 migrant families have been separated at the U.S.- Mexico border, leaving vulnerable children at a greater risk of human trafficking.

“Children in institutional care, including government-run facilities, can be easy targets for traffickers,” the report reads. These institutions, it states, cannot provide the emotional and psychological support these children would get in an intact familial situation.

An immigrant child looks out from a U.S. Border Patrol bus leaving the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, June 23, 2018. David J. Phillip/AP

An immigrant child looks out from a U.S. Border Patrol bus leaving the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, June 23, 2018. David J. Phillip/AP

The TIP Report’s warning against child institutionalization echoes an earlier statement from Carol Smolenski, executive director of ECPAT-USA: “Children are vulnerable to human trafficking—they are easy to manipulate, trick, and control...When a child is separated from their family for any reason whether poverty, natural disasters, wars, or through government policies they become more vulnerable to human trafficking.” She also said that separation from parents can lead to greater risks later on including mental health issues, namely trauma, “[making] them easy prey for people who want to take advantage of them.”

The TIP Report also states that children leaving or aging out of these institutions do not escape the dangers. “The vulnerability to human trafficking continues, in part due to the physical and psychological damage many of these children have suffered.” Being in a family allows children to “experience common life or social situations, and practice using cognitive reasoning and problem-solving skills.” Without the ability to develop these social, emotional, and psychological skills, these children and young adults continue to be susceptible to traffickers.

The immigration policy widely referred to as the “zero-tolerance” policy was implemented in April, sending minors to government run facilities while they awaited the prosecution of their parents and guardians. Though the policy was ended June 20th, 2,047 children remain in the facilities.  

“What is happening at the U.S. border with children from Latin America is a perversion of law enforcement and migration policy,” said Ms. Smolenski. “It is the antithesis of everything the U.S. stands for (remember “give me your tired, your poor”?)”.


More Information

View the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report, in particular the section on Child Institutionalization and Human Trafficking.

Read our Executive Director’s statement on the torture of children at the United States border.