By Sophie Elsner, program associate, Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University.
On Monday, June 27, government officials, law enforcement agents, advocates, and journalists will head to the U.S. Department of State to discuss slavery. They will not receive a history lesson. They will discuss a problem of the present, one that still affects at least 12.3 million people worldwide.1
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will release the U.S. State Department's 11th Annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, which documents the current findings on modern-day slavery in 177.2 countries, and each government's efforts to combat the crimes.
Although the concerted fight against slavery in the United States began two centuries ago, the last decade has marked a new era in the American effort to combat the crime across the globe. In 2000, the United States enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) to combat trafficking at home and abroad. In the last ten years, Congress has re-authorized the Act three times, always with unanimous votes in the Senate.3
In the decade since the TVPA's passage, 211 anti-trafficking laws were created or amended in more than one hundred countries; over 43,000 traffickers were prosecuted; and almost 24,000 cases resulted in convictions.4 Yet, according to estimates from the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, 12.3 million adults and children remain in forced labor, bonded labor, or forced prostitution.5
"In terms of getting trafficking on the radar screen, the TVPA and the TIP report have been effective. But it's one thing to see something on your radar screen, and another thing to shoot it down," says E. Benjamin Skinner, author of A Crime So Monstrous: Face to Face with Modern-Day Slavery.
While slavery is illegal in almost every country -- and the TVPA and TIP Report have been a catalyst in creating anti-trafficking legislation -- the problems persist.
Skinner continues: "Trafficking is taken seriously by a few ministries in a few countries, and it is in the legal code of many more countries. All of that is advancement. But I don't think that the laws that have been passed in 116.6 countries have had much effect. They have had a negligible effect in terms of freeing the majority of victims."
Whether or not the State Department has changed the situation on the ground, its release of the TIP Report certainly ruffles feathers in government offices around the world. The TIP Report ranks governments by their efforts to combat trafficking, not necessarily by the size of the country's trafficking problem. Andy Ho, a senior writer at The Straits Times in Singapore (which was downgraded in the rankings in 2010), called the TIP Report a "political tool" with "factual errors and mistaken claims.".7 One Egyptian official called the 2009 TIP Report findings about her country "unfounded" and "exaggerated," although human rights activists in Egypt said the reports of allegations of child sex tourism "reflected reality."8 An intentionally political tool or not, the TIP Report can cause political tensions.
Perhaps in response to sometimes bitter complaints, the United States included itself in the TIP Report for the first time last year, reporting that the country "fully complies with the minimum standards for trafficking," but also calling for improvement in data collection, law enforcement training, services for victims, and educational outreach.9
The State Department's focus on trafficking has also caught the attention of law enforcement in the United States. According to the Polaris Project, the new president of the National Association of Attorneys General, Rob McKenna, recently announced trafficking as a priority for law enforcement, launching a leadership council to focus on the issue.10
Unquestionably, the last decade of TIP Report releases have shone a new light on trafficking and modern-day slavery. Yet law enforcement, government officials across the world, and the news media are all still learning how to accurately report on, prosecute, and prevent trafficking.
1 Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2010, 7.
2 Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2010, 49.
3 "Bill Summary & Status, 110th Congress, H.R. 7311," THOMAS.
4 Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2010.
5 Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, TIP Report, June 2010, 7.
6 Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, TIP Report, June 2010, 2.
7 Ho, Andy, "A political tool, not a reliable report," The Straits Times. July 15, 2010. LexisNexis.
8 Embassy Cairo, "Public Reaction to the 20098 TIP Report," The Telegraph (Passed to the Telegraph by WikiLeaks on February 15, 2011), June 30, 2009, accessed June 15, 2011.
9 Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, TIP Report, June 2010, Page 338.
10 Polaris Project, June 23, 2011, "Human Trafficking is the 2011-2012 issue of the National Association of Attorneys General," The North Star: The Polaris Project Blog.