People who have endured the brutality of slavery are often the best ones to ask about how to end it. Five survivors brought their firsthand experiences to Capitol Hill this morning for a briefing on what the U.S. government should do.
Survivor Sandra Woworuntu, who works with the group Voices of Hope, wants stronger regulations on foreign labor recruiters. She explained that fraudulent labor contractors lure desperate foreign workers to the U.S. with promises of better jobs.
New legislation could subject recruiters to penalties for providing misleading information to incoming workers. Woworuntu praised efforts by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to encourage stronger regulation on foreign labor contractors in his Comprehensive Immigration Reform Plan.
Survivor Ima Matul, who works for the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), focused on the need for the U.S. government to train law enforcers, community leaders, educators, and government officials to learn how to properly identify and profile trafficking victims.
Matul said the proposed Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Human Trafficking Act of 2013 (S.1823) would help welfare officials prevent future abuse through better identification of trafficked children. Matul also called for quick implementation of the goals listed in the recently-published Federal Human Trafficking Strategic Action Plan.
Survivor Beth Jacobs, of the group Willow Way, discussed how survivors could re-enter more quickly if law enforcement officers treat sex slavery survivors as victims and not criminals – because a prostitution arrest hurts the survivor’s chances of finding a job.
Margeaux Gray, a survivor of child sex trafficking, noted that, “survivors of trafficking are not truly free until we are free of the traumatic aftereffects.” She stressed the need for an increase in services such as art therapy, psychological counseling and medical care for survivors. She called for schools to teach children about trafficking as well as providing programs where students can learn about the value of self-esteem.
The final survivor, James Kofi Annan from the FTS frontline partner group Challenging Heights in Ghana, recently received the 2013 World’s Children’s Prize. He requested the U.S. government to put pressure on Ghana’s government to implement its own trafficking laws. He also praised the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report for making African leaders accountable for combatting slavery. He wants the U.S. to increase funding for the Labor Department so it could be “integrating an anti-trafficking lens” in all its programs.
“We all have a role to play to ensure that children will not fall victim to the traffickers who prey on them,” said Annan.
Melysa Sperber, director of the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking (ATEST) called for increased corporate transparency to cleanse product supply chains of slavery-tainted components or raw materials. She suggested that companies above $100 million in income should report to the Securities and Exchange Commission and on their websites about efforts to address slavery and child labor within their operations.
Beth Jacobs concluded the briefing with a simple but powerful statement: “Human trafficking is an issue that crosses all lines and doesn’t discriminate. This is a human issue, we are not as far removed from it as we may think.”