In the words of U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry, “we find perhaps no greater threat to human dignity, no greater assault on basic freedom, than the evil of human trafficking.” With more than 20 million people estimated to be victimized around the world by this 150 billion dollar criminal industry (according to the International Labor Organization) the struggle against modern slavery, which includes many kinds of work including forced prostitution, can seem daunting. But each year, more countries pass anti-trafficking laws, more governments and non-governmental organizations initiate prevention efforts, law enforcement authorities send more traffickers to jail, and together with civil society organizations, all these entities identify tens of thousands of victims and take them out of harm’s way.
These global efforts are encouraging, but such initial successes do not mean victory. After all, merely identifying victims is not the same thing as restoring what was taken from them. Victims of trafficking endure not just physical injury, but a deprivation of their fundamental right to be free. While their suffering can never be undone, governments should provide victims what they need to move forward in their journey toward becoming survivors.
What does that journey look like?
It means ensuring victims have the choice to accept support and services to meet their immediate needs: trauma care, shelter, and protection from their abusers. It takes experienced personnel and facilities to address the unique needs of trafficking victims. Once free of their enslavement, victims of modern slavery will often be in a state of crisis. Many are hesitant to cooperate with authorities and some may opt to return to their abusers. Governments need to take all these factors into account and work closely with service providers to ensure adequate support structures are in place.
As trafficking victims advance in their recovery, their needs change. They often need help getting legal representation, acquiring decent housing, and finding educational or employment opportunities. They may need help returning home or reuniting with their family. When they may no longer desire to stay in a shelter, they may still need a supportive place where they can drop in and take advantage of available resources, or they may need immigration status to continue their recovery. Throughout the process, governments can ensure appropriate resources are available, while empowering the survivors to make choices about their own future.
Survivors also deserve access to justice. Governments must remain diligent in investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases, while at the same time ensuring that the judicial process not re-traumatize victims through clumsiness or callousness. Such structures can and should be available to victims around the world.
Finally, we cannot overlook the critical voice that survivors bring to the anti-trafficking fight as equal partners in the policy and political process and whose experiences provide invaluable guidance. The more we listen to their voices, the more success we will find in truly pursuing a victim-centered approach.
The 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report, released by Secretary Kerry on June 20, shines a light on best practices to fight modern slavery and on areas where the global community is both succeeding and falling short in this effort. The reality is that human trafficking exists here in Suriname, in the United States, and across the globe, and no government is doing a perfect job. But, we can all strive for improvement. Using the Report as a guide, the United States stands ready to continue our joint work with the Government of Suriname to help prevent trafficking, assist victims, and draw nearer to our shared vision of a world free from slavery.