P resident Barack Obama declared the month of January 2015 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
Yes, slavery still exists. Every day, in countries including the U.S., human beings are bought, sold and traded for exploitation or financial gain. These horrific acts, now defined as human trafficking, form a multibillion-dollar industry that is the second most profitable form of transnational crime in the world after drug trafficking.
The victims of this criminal enterprise face a number of inhumane situations, including prostitution, domestic servitude, child sex exploitation and illegal farm work. Victims may be subjected to physical and emotional abuse; restricted movement and contact with loved ones; excessive financial debts and withholding of their identification documents. In some cases, traffickers ensnare victims through false promises of love, companionship or escape to a better life.
The issue is so important that in 2000, Congress enacted the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, representing the beginning of a large-scale, coordinated effort by the U.S. government to fight human trafficking.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security stands at the forefront of federal law enforcement efforts to protect victims and bring traffickers to justice. The Department’s Blue Campaign serves as its unified voice against human trafficking and coordinates the anti-human trafficking efforts of all DHS components. In addition to educating DHS stakeholders to recognize and report human trafficking indicators, the Blue Campaign marshals resources among partners to increase trafficking detection worldwide.
“Partnerships better enable us to identify and rescue victims of this heinous crime and bring the perpetrators to justice,” said DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. “We will continue to work with state and local authorities and private sector partners across the country to help save lives, protect innocent individuals, and prevent this form of modern day slavery.”
For U.S. Customs and Border Protection, this means a continued focus on stopping traffickers and identifying victims along the nation’s borders and at ports of entry. With more than 42,000 frontline officers and agents protecting nearly 7,000 miles of land border and 328 ports of entry – including official crossings by land, air and sea – CBP is uniquely situated to deter and disrupt human trafficking.
CBP trains its frontline personnel at borders and ports of entry to recognize human trafficking signs and indicators and to take appropriate actions when encountering potential victims. CBP also works to identify and halt imports produced by forced labor, and partners with other law enforcement agencies to conduct anti-trafficking operations.
Additionally, CBP has spearheaded a number of initiatives focused on combating human trafficking.
“Blue Lightning,” an initiative led by CBP and the U.S. Department of Transportation, trains airline personnel to identify potential traffickers and their victims and to report their suspicions to federal law enforcement. Blue Lightning's real-time reporting mechanism gives law enforcement time to research and analyze information while flights are in the air, and coordinates an appropriate, effective response.
Partnerships are crucial to the Blue Campaign’s mission of increasing awareness of human trafficking. In December 2014, DHS announced an anti-human trafficking partnership with Travel Centers of America, operator of the TA® and Petro Stopping Centers® travel center brands. This partnership seeks to shine a light on and eliminate instances of human trafficking along the interstate highway system. Through this first-of-its-kind alliance, Travel Centers of America will provide the DHS Blue Campaign’s training and awareness materials – including posters, handouts and a public service announcement – to its over 250 locations and more than 15,000 employees across the U.S.
In October 2014, DHS announced partnerships with the City of Phoenix and the Arizona Human Trafficking Council of the Governor’s Office for Children, Youth and Families, which will distribute and display Blue Campaign materials throughout Arizona ahead of Super Bowl XLIX in February 2015. Studies have shown a higher prevalence of human trafficking at large sporting events. These materials will help individuals and communities identify indicators of human trafficking and report suspected cases. These new alliances join the ranks of other important Blue Campaign partners – including Amtrak and Western Union – which are greatly assisting in the anti-trafficking fight.
In April 2014, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson joined key federal partners at the White House meeting of the Presidential Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. He highlighted the work of the campaign and announced a new partnership with the Department of Education to develop trafficking indicator training and other resources for school administrators, teachers and staff. DHS also worked with the General Services Administration to display awareness materials in government-owned buildings nationwide.
DHS Deputy Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas attended the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference in March 2014, where he announced a partnership agreement between DHS and the National League of Cities to offer Web-based training and public awareness materials to league members.
In early 2014, the administration released the Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States, which describes the steps that DHS and other departments are taking to combat human trafficking, identify victims and ensure their access to proper services. In his introduction to the plan, President Obama stated, “To those who are suffering and have suffered the horrors of human trafficking, our message remains: We hear you. We insist on your dignity. And we share your belief that, if just given the chance, you can forge a life equal to your talents and worthy of your dreams.”
To get help from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, call 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733). The NHTRC can help connect victims with service providers in the area and provide training, technical assistance and other resources. The NHTRC is a national, toll-free hotline that answers calls from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. The NHTRC is not a law enforcement or immigration authority, and is operated by a nongovernmental organization funded by the federal government.
DHS and CBP believe that ending human trafficking is possible. However, such a goal can only be accomplished with the help of the communities they serve. Yes, you can help give a voice to trafficking victims and help bring them out of the shadows. Learn the indicators of human trafficking and call 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (1-866-347-2423) to report suspicious criminal activity to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations Tip Line, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also submit tips at www.ice.gov/tips.
Please do not at any time attempt to confront a suspected trafficker directly or alert a victim to your suspicions. Your safety as well as the victims safety is paramount.