It was an overflow crowd as Senator John Kerry prepared to speak, the room full of activists and interns eager to learn. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had gathered to explore “The Next Ten Years in the Fight Against Human Trafficking: Attacking the Problem with the Right Tools.” Chairman Kerry had invited Jada Pinkett Smith, David Abramowitz from Humanity United, and Holly Burkhalter from International Justice Mission to testify.
Human trafficking is one of the “great moral challenges of our time,” Senator Kerry said, noting that he sees it starkly as “really slavery, modern day slavery.” Jada Pinkett Smith, wife of actor Will Smith and founder of the Don’t Sell Bodies organization, brought three slavery survivors with her from California, underscoring slavery’s continued existence in the United States.
Activists David Abramowitz and Holly Burkhalter, who work with FTS through the ATEST coalition, asked senators to take action on investigating corporate supply chains, increasing law enforcement, and renewing U.S. diplomatic efforts. Kerry declared that U.S. legislation “frankly is too tame, too limited.”
Senator and potential Republican vice presidential candidate Marco Rubio said that better training for police will help officers recognize that sex slaves are victims and not criminals. Rubio noted that he’s against newspapers advertising the services of child sex slaves. “There’s no First Amendment protection…for child trafficking,” he said.
Senator Dick Durbin challenged fellow lawmakers to do more about conflict minerals from the Congo and the global problem of forced marriage- two issues central to Free the Slaves’ current research.
“What can the general public do?” Senator Kerry asked as the hearing closed. The witnesses provided an enthusiastic response: lobby your elected representatives, look out for trafficking in your community, and investigate your own slavery footprint.
Watch the full hearing online to learn more.