June 20th, 2014
09:21 AM ET

Opinion: U.S. must practice what it preaches as it judges others on human trafficking

By Melysa Sperber

Editor’s Note: Melysa Sperber is Director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST), a U.S. based coalition that advocates for solutions to prevent and end all forms of human trafficking and modern slavery around the world. The opinions expressed in this article are solely that of the author.

(CNN) - For the past 14 years, the U.S. State Department has used its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report to judge how well the world is addressing modern slavery.

Each year, the report draws much-needed attention to the horrors of human trafficking that flourish everywhere from fishing boats in Thailand and palm plantations in Malaysia, to brick kilns in India and the sex industry in just about every country worldwide.

Hidden behind the shadows, traffickers prey on men, women and children, luring the vulnerable among us with promises of honest employment that are merely a facade for work conditions that are dangerous, exploitative and sometimes deadly.

To date, the TIP Report’s country-by-country assessment has proven to be a powerful motivator, inspiring governments to improve efforts to reduce modern slavery in order to avoid the report’s lowest Tier 3 ranking - a diplomatic black eye that comes with the threat of U.S. sanctions.

The State Department’s power to influence other countries’ anti-trafficking efforts depends on the TIP Report’s integrity.

We see concrete progress that we attribute to the TIP Report’s influence, and that is why its credibility must be unassailable.

Melysa Sperber

Melysa Sperber

For example, the TIP Report was instrumental in galvanizing political will in Cameroon to pass legislation in 2012 making it a crime to traffic adults and children for sex or labor exploitation.

In the Philippines, the government has make profound reforms, including putting trafficking cases on a fast track for prosecution, in order to avoid a poor TIP ranking.

But how is the U.S. faring at home?

The TIP report has given America a top Tier 1 ranking since the State Department began reporting on U.S. progress in 2010.

Tier 1 status requires that countries make “appreciable progress” in efforts to combat modern slavery, and it is incumbent on the U.S. to use the annual assessment to look hard at its progress and to hold its leaders accountable if they’re not doing enough.

As a rule, “Do as I say, not as I do” is not a productive way to lead, and if we take a hard look at what the U.S. government is doing to fight domestic slavery - with resources that dwarf so many of the governments we critique each year - the honest conclusion is that it can and should do so much better.

The U.S. State Department estimates that as many as 17,500 men, women and children are trafficked into the United States each year.

Each year, thousands of men, women and children pay foreign labor recruiters for the promise of a good job in the United States, only to be trafficked into the sex trade or forced to work for little or no wages in farm fields, as domestic servants or childcare providers, in hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

Despite knowledge of this trafficking, Congress has failed to pass legislation that would oversee foreign labor contractors and ban recruitment fees that often force workers into conditions of debt bondage or modern slavery.

We don’t know how many children are trapped in modern slavery in the U.S. Collecting and reporting accurate data is a challenge the government must address if we are truly serious about tackling this scourge.

What we do know is that too many child trafficking victims end up arrested and jailed or sent to juvenile detention instead of receiving necessary and deserved support services.

Too few states have effective Safe Harbor laws that prevent minor victims of sex trafficking from being prosecuted for prostitution and require placement in specialized programs for trafficked youth.

This means that in the majority of states trafficked children are likely to be arrested and put in jail cells or juvenile detention instead of receiving safe shelter, medical and psychological care and other services victims of this horrendous crime deserve.

We also know that every year, the number of trafficking survivors seeking emergency and long-term support is increasing.

Nonetheless, funding for trafficking victims services remained stagnant for a decade, until just this year.

Imagine escaping from a brothel, a restaurant, a factory, or a home where you worked against your will, often in life-threatening conditions. Free from the trafficker, you are homeless and insecure.

You reach out for help. You wait for days, then weeks, or even months before a non-profit organization is able to offer you the services you need to fully recover.

This is the situation facing too many survivors in the U.S.

Perhaps more disturbing, the U.S. child welfare system, charged with providing for America’s most vulnerable children, fails to protect youth from falling prey to traffickers.

Dismayingly, research shows that the majority of identified child trafficking victims already had contact, often multiple times, with the “the system”.

The safety net for our most vulnerable children has gaping holes, and boys and girls are falling through them at alarming rates.

With failures like this, the TIP Report should spur us in America to look long and hard at our Tier 1 ranking, and consider what the U.S. should be doing to deserve it moving forward.

President Obama and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have spoken out about the horrors of human trafficking.

Evidence of their true commitment will be reflected in strong policies that provide more guidance, resources and training for state welfare agencies; prevent fraudulent labor recruitment; stop the criminalization of trafficking victims and ensure all trafficking survivors receive adequate services and support.

All of this will cost money. Perhaps our greatest failure is not investing in proven solutions that will stop a global industry that generates $150 billion in annual profits by creating and capitalizing on one of the greatest human rights violation of our time.

Topics: Government • In The News • The Facts • TIP Report

soundoff (49 Responses)
  1. tavuka2

    human traffickers should executed..but instead they are given a slap on the wrist and are back in business in days..

    June 20, 2014 at 10:43 am | Reply
    • Dick Perry

      Yes. We all know that the death penalty stopped all crime in nations and states that has it.

      June 20, 2014 at 5:02 pm | Reply
      • Jeff

        You seem to think you know everything, Dick. Please do tell us how many crimes were not committed due to the possible consequence of execution.

        June 20, 2014 at 9:41 pm |
  2. Johnny Tank (Forever Autumn)

    If you want to end slavery in the US, don't forget about SCIENTOLOGY. People who sign "volunteer" contract work up to 16 hours a day, 7 days per week, for mere pennies. They can be as young as 12 or 13 years old, doing hard manual labour, to "free humanity". END SCIENTOLOGY NOW!!!

    June 20, 2014 at 12:21 pm | Reply
  3. Joe

    Would be interesting to know how many trafficked humans in the states are here illegally and do these numbers increase or decrease following an amnesty? Also is this message being shown south of the border?

    If the most at risk members of the population were afraid to violate our sovereignty, we would not need to 'dialogue' about illegal aliens.

    June 20, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Reply
    • mike

      The answer to your question is the same. The US granted amnesty to illegals once before so after granting it again slavery would still be at the same levels as it is today

      June 20, 2014 at 5:08 pm | Reply
      • tom

        Correction, we have had seven amnesties in the past 30 years and illegal immigration has increased each time because they entice more to come here and take advantage of the "next amnesty".

        June 21, 2014 at 10:22 am |
  4. Tim from Portland

    Portland, OR has been notorious for human trafficking for over a hundred years, with a seedy past. I fully agree that while it is important to be responsible global citizens, we need to look at our own cities and neighborhoods and support freedom (true freedom) for women and children. Whether they are here illegally or not, they still represent our future. It is up to us to define their future, and by consequence, our own. I strongly urge people to find local missions and/or non-profits, or contact your local law enforcement agencies. They would love to have your help, and you just might become a hero to someone in the process.

    June 20, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Reply
  5. bccream

    So illegal immigration is not = modern day slavery ? Hmm add that to the formula and now re run the program again.

    June 20, 2014 at 4:54 pm | Reply
  6. kws11

    Speaking of "preaching" what happened to the kidnapped school girls? Mrs. Obama herself held up a hand-written sign of support and dismay, and then they vanished from the news. WTH?

    June 20, 2014 at 7:20 pm | Reply
    • Jeff

      It's called jumping on the bandwagon for notoriety with no true intention to do anything. They are pathetic people who do this nonsense.

      June 20, 2014 at 9:42 pm | Reply
  7. hohoho

    Are you people ritarded??? Hello there are 12+ million ILLEGALS in USA. You here to talk about other country's human trafficking???

    June 20, 2014 at 8:05 pm | Reply
    • Jeff

      Yes, Obama and his administration are complicit in aiding and abetting human trafficking by not enforcing the immigration laws they are sworn to uphold.

      June 20, 2014 at 9:44 pm | Reply
      • tom

        You are correct!

        June 21, 2014 at 10:24 am |
  8. Chuck

    Good luck with Obama practicing what he preaches................

    June 20, 2014 at 9:53 pm | Reply
  9. rick

    When america finaly starts ENFORCING the boarders as a invasion as it REALY IS in reality.. Starts jailing the ones who are making children as young as 11 marry a child molester for money and -caste- status. Starts REVOKING the VISAs of those intentionaly here to not work but bring the ENTIRE WORTHLESS FAMILY over here and burden the welfare system even more. Start hard line prosecution/deportation.. Then america can stand and say we have a better country..

    June 21, 2014 at 3:38 am | Reply
  10. atheist4thecause

    It seems weird to bring up an anti-trafficking slavery stat and turn it into an anti-illegal immigration stat.

    June 21, 2014 at 7:31 am | Reply
  11. Terryl

    Well, we should address both international and domestic trafficking at the same time, not one or the other first. Indeed, it should be addressed – and fought – and not tolerated in the U.S. either. Unfortunately, the child / human trafficking problem is more dynamic in other countries. Keep up the good work though… as I do in north Thailand.

    June 21, 2014 at 7:51 am | Reply
    • tom


      June 21, 2014 at 10:26 am | Reply


    June 21, 2014 at 10:42 am | Reply
  13. go bonazio

    The TIP report just recently released only makes sense if you think the USA is doing it's part to stop this same exploitation in within it's jurisdiction.

    June 22, 2014 at 3:56 am | Reply
  14. Steven

    The military are actually doing exactly that. They are clamping down on human trafficking which flourished in the dictatorship that these arrogant politicians backed. I used to love the USA but sadly a few vile politician's with ulterior motives and a sick understanding of the world are ruining its reputation and causing so much dislike around the world. Kerry and Obama etc should be ashamed of themselves and I pity the USA that their country which is so wonderful is being run by such disgusting human beings. Who lie, deceive, manipulate and cause so much harm around the world.

    June 22, 2014 at 5:37 am | Reply
  15. James

    Let us be honest here. In America they are illegals. No one forced them to come here. So hard to feal sorry for them. But those who give them any kind of work to do should be hung or face fines so high it is a life of extreem poverty they are left with themselfs.

    June 22, 2014 at 6:19 am | Reply
  16. Carson Thaler

    Or we can just grow the slave here at home. We have people farms complete with conditioning services brought to you by media propaganda...

    Hey- If we debase people enough, we'll reach a point to where we can classify those people as not human and use them to do the work we otherwise don't want to do...

    It's the new slavery- Being born into bondage and Indentured Servitude via the Amurikan way...

    It's happening this very moment...

    June 22, 2014 at 2:30 pm | Reply
  17. LissaCoffey

    When america finaly starts ENFORCING the boarders as a invasion as it REALY IS in reality.. Starts jailing the ones who are making children as young as 11 marry a child molester for money and -caste- status. Starts REVOKING the VISAs of those intentionaly here to not work but bring the ENTIRE WORTHLESS FAMILY over here and burden the welfare system even more.

    June 23, 2014 at 12:17 am | Reply
  18. Jim

    Do as we say not as we do. USA with no immigration policy and 10-15 million illegal immigrants and a justice system that miserably fails the abused is casting judgement on other countries? Those following the Thai unrest know that this downgrade has nothing to do with trafficking and everything to do with politics. This downgrade is a result of the Thaksin clan in Thailand being removed from power. The author is right on with the adage "practice what you preach", and until then the U.S. should stop meddling in other countries affairs and focus on it's own actions within it's own borders.

    June 23, 2014 at 7:30 am | Reply
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  22. Chinaman

    For an illegal line reason, you should stop China.

    August 21, 2014 at 6:36 pm | Reply
  23. george argiriou

    since 1994 the northen greeks have deny me a normal life.my life is like i am in prison.4 20 long years.and this is still going on.some1 must tell them that there is an idea called mercy.they even making moves on some teachers in the univercity.i do not expect help becouse i can haddle it all by myself.thunk u a lot.

    September 4, 2014 at 3:53 pm | Reply
  24. rick

    And america IS practicing what it preaches. It was obvious with the recint deportation of a so called "diplomat" that was using forced labor and threats of family abuse to live in a high scociety lifestyle here in america. And suddenly went back with a (persona non grata) we dont want you back here EVER status in this country. With a warrent for arrest issued by a federal judge right on her heels. And actualy COMPLAINED that was treated like a "common criminal" instead of her "caste" status. And run with tail between legs back because it didnt work in a civilized country! Like it didnt matter what crime was commited. She was of a BLAH/blah caste and COULDNT be a criminal.! One gone.. THOUSANDS MORE TO GO SOON..! This is NOT that country. We have indoor plumbing that works.! And have for a LONG TIME. I have seen the truth personaly in past. And it sickened all of us who seen it.

    September 13, 2014 at 10:30 am | Reply
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