Survivors’ Perspective FY 2017
The Case for Funding to End Human Trafficking
Human trafficking is on America’s cultural and political radar – present in news reports and policy discussions at local, state and national levels – more than ever before.
However, problems remain. Human trafficking is often hidden or overlooked. In 2014, the International Labour Organization estimated that there are nearly 21 human trafficking victims in the world, 5.5 million of whom are children. It’s a shameful business that generates $150 billion in profits worldwide. Right here in the United States, tens of thousands of people are enslaved, and the National Human Trafficking Resource Center has received more than 18,000 reports of human trafficking cases since 2007.
Firsthand accounts of trafficking survivors reinforce just how important it is that we turn trafficking awareness into meaningful action. We need more resources to help survivors to fully recover; we need more training so first responders recognize human trafficking and modern slavery when they see it; and we need more political support for programs that help prevent trafficking from occurring in the first place.
Holly Smith, a child sex trafficking survivor and author of “Walking Prey: How America’s Youth are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery,” testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary about her experiences as a 14-year-old trafficking victim, and what can happen to today’s victims without adequately-funded support services.
Without effective support and services, it is very difficult for victims to move forward. Child victims may return to exploitative situations or they may be returned to abusive or neglectful situations from which they had originally run. While youth may escape juvenile detention, they might not escape continued abuse or sexual exploitation. This is particularly true in states implementing safe harbor protections where law enforcement cannot adequately respond without well-resourced service providers trained to work with child victims of commercial sexual exploitation. This is why I encourage legislators to include provisions that authorize resources for services for all victims of human trafficking and child exploitation – girls, boys, men, and women.
Shandra Woworuntu, a survivor advocate and founder of Mentari, a non-profit organization that provides human trafficking survivors with mentorship and job training, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations about what it is like to be enslaved, finally escape, then try and recover without adequate support services.
I entered the United States lawfully on a non-immigrant visa arranged through the recruitment agency that brought me here. I was picked up at the airport with five other women, and soon our passports were forcibly taken, and our lives threatened. And the abusive situation become clear: we were being trafficked into the sex trade. I managed to escape, and I cooperated with law enforcement to successfully prosecute my trafficker, and we rescued many girls.
It was hard for me to survive because there were not many services available to help me…It is very difficult for survivors to recover from such a terrible experience. It is challenging when you are in a country where you do not speak the language and have little or no support.
Evelyn Chumbow, a survivor of labor trafficking and advocate, was featured in “Beyond Survival,” a 2014 report by the National Domestic Workers Alliance about the landscape of domestic worker trafficking in the United States and recommendations for government action to end this form of modern slavery. In this excerpt, survivor Evelyn Chumbow describes her life as a trafficked domestic servant and explains how a dearth of long-term support services causes additional suffering for survivors:
When I got to the U.S., I was forced to cook, clean, and take care of the children of my trafficker. I was never paid for my work, and any hope that I might escape my miserable life was undermined by the constant beatings I received from my trafficker. For seven years of my young teenage life, I lived in constant fear and worked day and night. I never rode the school bus, went to a prom, hung out with friends after school, or joined a dance team. Instead, I was a modern day slave, not in some far-flung country, but right here in the U.S. I had not seen my parents for eighteen years due to this situation.
…There are many campaigns for identification and prosecution of human trafficking. There are more new NGOs working to build awareness, but not much is being done to help with the long-term needs of survivors, and very few of them actually employ survivors or offer paid training that would assist with recovery. There are very few good paying jobs available to us, which leads to vulnerability and inability to move on. Many survivors don’t want to go back to that same work they were doing before, but don’t have any choice. After leaving the situation, we are struggling to recover and make ends meet.
James Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian child trafficking survivor and founder of anti-trafficking organization Challenging Heights, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations about what life is like for a Ghanaian child sold into forced labor in the Lake Volta region, and why the U.S. Government must continue funding programs that support prevention of human trafficking in other countries.
A typical day might begin at 3:00 a.m. and end at 8:00 p.m., and include challenging tasks such as casting nets, diving, hauling, with only one meal served. Children often get stuck in the nets at the bottom of the lake as a result of unsafe diving. If a child is caught escaping, the consequences can be brutal. Often the families do not hear from their children again.
The United States’ diplomatic pressure is very important in helping to persuade the government of Ghana to act. It is critical that these efforts continue and are properly funded.
Ideally, the government should target resources towards grass roots organizations as Ghanaians themselves and those in other countries struggling to end human trafficking are the only ones who can do the difficult work of changing attitudes in their own countries.