House holds hearings on domestic and global human trafficking

In September 2010, the House of Representatives held two hearings on human trafficking. The first hearing focused exclusively on the domestic sex trafficking of minors within the United States, while the second hearing addressed the problem of human trafficking on a global scale. 

Vital Voices strongly believes that the Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress should prioritize the issue of trafficking. We commend the progress made in combating trafficking worldwide, and we encourage our partners in government and civil society to actively promote best practices in prevention, prosecution, protection, and partnerships. The bright spots highlighted in the recent hearings on Capitol Hill are persuasive evidence - with sustainable, victim-centered initiatives and effective coordination among stakeholders, trafficking and slavery can be eliminated within our lifetimes.


Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking 

On September 15, 2010, the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, overseen by Chairman Robert C. Scott (D-VA) and ranking member Louie Gohmert (R-TX), held a hearing on the sex trafficking of minors within the United States.  The purpose of the hearing was twofold: to garner support for H.R. 5575, the “Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking Deterrence and Victims Support Act of 2010,” and to question Craigslist representatives.

Jackie Speier (D-CA), Ted Poe (R-TX), and former Congresswoman Linda Smith testified on the first panel with Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), co-sponsors of H.R. 5575. The proposed legislation would authorize large block grants to support and train law enforcement. According to Linda Smith, misidentification of victims as juvenile delinquents or prostitutes is currently “the primary barrier” to rescuing and responding to the needs of minor sex trafficking victims.

Smith cited dramatic estimates: 100,000 children are exploited in the sex trade in the United States each year. And yet, nationwide victims can only access 50 beds in shelters tailored for the needs of trafficking survivors. “This is simply unacceptable. We have a moral obligation to help. These are America’s daughters, granddaughters, sisters, and nieces," Maloney testified.

On the second panel of witnesses, Craiglist's Director of Customer Service and Law Enforcement Relations William Powell and Craigslist attorney Elizabeth McDougall, discussed the site's removal of its “Adult Services” section. The company’s decision followed prolonged criticism by several law enforcement entities as well as advocacy by anti-trafficking organizations, including fellow members of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), a coalition of organizations focused on the elimination of trafficking and slavery in our lifetimes.

While members of Congress, law enforcement, prosecutors, and civil society applauded Craigslist for censoring its U.S. site, they expressed concern about the 250 Craigslist sites abroad that feature “Erotic Services” sections. Without proper monitoring, children will continue to face exploitation by traffickers who use Craigslist sites to evade laws protecting children from exposure to commercial sexual exploitation.

Vital Voices supports efforts to eliminate domestic minor sex trafficking. We believe the U.S. must be a model for countries around the world. Anti-trafficking advocates globally look to the U.S. as an example of best practices. Every opportunity to extend protections to victims and to strengthen law enforcement's efforts to combat sex trafficking should be endorsed by Congress.


Global Human Trafficking

On September 30, 2010, the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC), overseen by Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA), held a hearing on global human trafficking. Panelists included Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (GTIP), as well as members of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST): David Abramowitz, Director of Policy and Government Relations at Humanity United, and Neha Misra, Senior Specialist for Migration & Human Trafficking at the Solidarity Center.

2010 marks GTIP's 10-year anniversary. Ambassador CdeBaca pointed to positive policy changes in anti-trafficking efforts worldwide: an increase in sex trafficking prosecutions and shelters for victims in some Gulf states; greater efforts to address forced begging in West Africa; the formation of a national task force in Swaziland; and cross-border cooperation with Mexico.

According to CdeBaca, crime has evolved over the past decade. “Traffickers are also changing their methods of control: they are using more female recruiters, more subtle forms of exploitation, and greater psychological abuse.”

Panelists urged Congress and the Obama Administration to prioritize eradicating slavery and trafficking. Abramowitz praised the GTIP Report, and he emphasized its value as a specialized, comprehensive report.

Abramowitz also raised the topic of India, which ranks on the Tier II Watchlist. Estimates show that India has more trafficking than any other country in the world. Abramowitz encouraged President Obama to raise the issue of trafficking with Prime Minister Singh during his visit to Delhi next month.


A few Indian states have made great strides in combating trafficking. 2010 TIP Report Hero Sattaru Umapathi, an anti-human trafficking officer in Andhra Pradesh, was lauded at the Committee hearing. In September 2010, Umapathi met with Vital Voices to discuss the importance of partnerships. As an example, he pointed to Prajwala and its Co-Founder and President Sunitha Krishnan, a delegate for India to the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Women.