Africa: U.S. Agencies Join Forces to Combat Human Trafficking

Washington — The Obama administration, as part of its commitment to fight human trafficking, has produced the first Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States.

The five-year plan, released January 14, lays out a path for increased collaboration among more than 15 U.S. federal government agencies. "Traditionally, individual federal agencies provide support to victims within their particular areas of responsibility," the plan notes. "Coordinating anti-trafficking efforts at the federal level is crucial to ensuring victims receive comprehensive services."

The plan describes the steps that federal agencies will take to ensure that all victims of human trafficking in the United States are identified and have access to the services they need to recover and to rebuild their lives.

President Obama has condemned human trafficking as a "modern incarnation of slavery."

"Human trafficking is a denial of our common humanity and an affront to our ideals as Americans," Obama says in a letter opening the report. "Survivors of human trafficking deserve holistic, streamlined and compassionate assistance."

President Obama announced his intentions to develop the interagency anti-trafficking plan in September 2012. The completed plan integrates input from trafficking survivors. The plan says better housing and medical care services need to be provided to survivors, as well as legal services.

"While human trafficking victims may be eligible for T or U nonimmigrant status, which allows victims to remain and work in the United States and assist law enforcement authorities in the investigation or prosecution of human trafficking cases, many victims continue to face legal constraints challenging their recovery process," the report says. "The integration of the legal services network into the victim services network is a new effort that will require extensive collaboration and coordination. This plan seeks to address these issues."

The plan also calls for expanded data collection and research efforts. Current statistics on the crime of human trafficking are limited, the plan says. "Data collection and evidence-based research are sorely needed to inform federal, state, territorial, tribal, local, and nongovernmental-organization service provision," it says.

The plan defines human trafficking as a crime that involves the exploitation of a person for the purpose of compelled labor or a commercial sex act. While it is difficult to measure the magnitude of human trafficking, the International Labour Organization estimates that more than 20 million men, women and children are victimized by forced labor and sex trafficking worldwide, including the United States.

"While there is no defining characteristic that all victims share, traffickers frequently prey on individuals who are poor, vulnerable, living in an unsafe situation, or are in search of a better life," the report says. "Whether made to work in agriculture, a factory or a strip club, forced into commercial sex, or abused in a home as a domestic servant, [U.S.] federal law recognizes these people as victims of human trafficking."

Although the plan (PDF, 3.5MB) focuses on combating human trafficking in the United States, President Obama, in designating January 2014 as "National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month," called upon the international community to join forces in ending this scourge.

"Because modern-day slavery is a global tragedy, combating it requires international action," Obama said in his proclamation.

Dismantling trafficking networks and aiding victims are only part of the work that needs to be done by the United States and the international community, Obama said.

"We must also address the underlying forces that push so many into bondage," the president said. "We must develop economies that create legitimate jobs, build a global sense of justice that says no child should ever be exploited, and empower our daughters and sons with the same chances to pursue their dreams."

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