Enacting Liberation and Enforcing Prosecution

Ending human trafficking through government supported programs for the long term rehabilitation of its victims.

The poor economic standing of the United States is currently causing tough financial circumstances for most U.S. citizens and raising the much debated question of where spending should be prioritized. With unemployment in the U.S. currently so high, prostitution as a means of work, is flourishing. Yet, the vast majority of prostitution in the U.S. is controlled by pimps and traffickers and can be correctly termed, human trafficking. In this sex obsessed society however, there is a great misconception that prostitutes choose their work, that they are the ones to be punished for this crime. This has been proven false however, as human trafficking manipulates and forces physical and emotional abuse upon the often, young and vulnerable victim. Human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the United States and Portland, Oregon ranks second among U.S. cities. In fact, sex trafficking accounts for 85 percent of all human trafficking crimes in the world. The main contributor to these crimes, the sex industry, has profits of 88 billion dollars a year. This lucrative business is fueled by men and consumes women and children as their victims. Given the current depressed economic state and sudden rise in human trafficking crimes, the United States government needs to increase efforts to investigate and prosecute human trafficking crimes and increase funding to victims through protection services.

The day that Jeri Williams was rescued from her life of prostitution was the day her pimp was arrested. She had tried to escape from the two bedroom apartment her pimp’s gang had inhabited, but the beatings were too violent as was his forceful ways of keeping her constrained in a life of manipulation and bondage. Jeri is a prime example of prostitution victim caught in the business with no way out. Advocate Esther Nelson, from The Sexual Assault Resource Center witnesses the damage human trafficking does to girls and young women every day. Many of the girls are taken off the streets, but because they don’t have a stable, safe place to go and with no after-care recovery programs available, they enter back onto the streets almost immediately after they leave SARC. According to the article, Tales from the Field, even when a victim is treated, she often finds it hard to assimilate back into a normal lifestyle because the belief system that the pimps instilled upon her consists of intense brain manipulation and the complete breakdown of her life. Most victims’ aftermath symptoms are lasting and in order for them to not return to the streets, they are in need of long-term, professional care.

This long-term care is not commonly found in the United States. According to Foreign Policy in Focus, the previous Bush administration supported prosecuting the prostitute in the crime of trafficking. Foreign Policy in Focus argues that instead, the U.S. government, under the Obama, administration must reject these old policies and move forward by providing the victims with professional treatment and harshly prosecuting the pimp. All prostitution is trafficking, and the United States’ method of creating change by locking away the victims will not effectively stop this crime. Karla Dial of Citizen Magazine also agrees that long-term policy changes need to be established to thwart this issue. Currently, “…there is no federal law that provides resources to domestic victims of child exploitation” (Dial, 7).  As well, “It’s not a problem the girls or law enforcement have, it’s a problem the men have” (Fraley, Citizen Magazine). There are currently loop-holes in the justice system that the johns and traffickers can slip through. If a john says he didn’t know the girl he previously had sex with from the street was under 18, he is only charged with a misdemeanor. Esther Nelson states that, “we have a system in place that is supposed to afford victims justice and until we start holding traffickers and “johns” accountable, we’re not going to see a change. If we don’t reduce the demand for the sale of humans, we’re not going to stop seeing this phenomenon take place.” As well, Dial believes that these loop-holes and the true criminals to blame are being looked over by the government and that stricter laws must be put into place.

Esther Nelson argues that more funding must be provided for long-term aftercare programs because currently, resources such as SARC can only give as many resources as the government funding will pay for. SARC and other resource centers in the local Portland area, are unable to provide full care and continual services if the state funding is not suffice. When a girl is initially rescued, she generally needs a safe place to go. Providing a shelter with beds is an initial start for recovery, yet shelters like this rarely exist. Recently Transitions Global, a non-profit organization attempted to bring twenty beds to Portland Oregon, the city with the second highest number of human trafficking crimes in the nation. This attempt failed, however because of inadequate funding. The key organizations that fight to combat human trafficking are usually non-profits which mean they receive limited amounts of money from donations. When these organizations do not have the funding they need, there is no capacity for change.

The largest barrier preventing change from happening, aside from government funding, is the misconception within society of what human trafficking truly is. Much of society does not know that is exists in the United States and that the number of victims is quickly growing. This is perhaps because of the failure of the government and media to educate the public and promote awareness. One example of a victim of this societal misconception expressed his view about the legalization of prostitution on Askville provided by Amazon.com.  He argued that by legalizing prostitution in the U.S., the crime rate would lower and law-enforcement would be able to focus on more substantial issues. He continued to state that he believed if a prostitute is rescued once and they return to the streets, there is no need to help them a second time. If they return a second time, it is obviously by choice, therefore our government should not fund further after-care programs. This blogger is clearly a victim to the common misconception that prostitutes are the ones to blame. Academic research on human trafficking reveals that most victims have not chosen their occupation, but rather are forced into the business by a pimp.

Research, that is currently being done on human trafficking, is analyzing the main contributors to human trafficking such as poverty, classism and racial background. Through investigations of these demographics of the victims, traffickers and the sex industry, publications such as Sex Trafficking of Women in the United States has formed a foundation of knowledge that can be used by the government to make executive decisions towards this issue. The conclusion this publication came to is that stricter penalties and laws must be enforced through collaborative prevention and awareness to thwart human trafficking. Journalists such as Nicholas Kristof have spent years promoting awareness overseas by publishing impacting stories of individuals in New York Times. His stories have brought in mass donations for sex trafficking victims. With the victims of human trafficking in the U.S. quickly approaching an estimated 300,000, journalistic efforts and media awareness need to be made in our hometown. Yet, before an issue can be given attention and prevented, it must be addressed and accurately depicted.

In 2010, in section 110 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, President Obama declared the actions he will take toward ending human trafficking. In a proclamation, Obama states that prevention efforts through education and awareness campaigns must be spread, efforts must be increased for the investigation and prosecution of traffickers, and efforts for the protection, justice and aftercare of victims must also be increased. As well, Congress recently passed an omnibus appropriations bill that will provide funding to major organizations that provide long-term care and justice to victims of human trafficking. With the combined efforts of President Obama planning to fight this issue through increased funding, prevention and awareness, and an educated society, human trafficking in the U.S. will hopefully dwindle when we, as a nation, effectively combat it.