Full of hopes and aspirations, thousands of women and children end up trafficked into the United States each year by false promises of a better opportunity, school or the fulfillment of a vocational dream, only to later realize that they have been forced into sex slavery. This is a story we hear too often, but what legal action has been put in place to prevent these foreign victims from being trafficked? The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) has helped numerous trafficking victims, domestically and internationally, however, I believe this Act could be revised to generate more aid and programs for international trafficking victims. The TVPA allows immigrant women and children to report crimes committed against them to law enforcement and grants political asylum to victims of trafficking through a temporary T-VISA. This T-VISA allows the trafficked persons to receive aid from the Federal government. There are several limitations within the TVPA that facilitate the revolving door for trafficking victims; when they are deported it is most likely they will inevitably be subjected to human trafficking and sexual exploitation again in their home country.
The most prevalent critiques of the TVPA are:
1. Victims must qualify as a, “victim of severe trafficking.”
2. The victims must testify against their traffickers to receive asylum.
3. If the victim is not deemed eligible for the T-VISA they receive no protection, safe housing, and are ultimately deported.
To be considered a victim of severe trafficking, adult victims must prove they were coerced by fraud or force into sex trafficking. Language and education barriers prevent many trafficked victims from being able to convey their specific situation. The Honorable Mark P. Lagon states the specific shortfall of the differentiation between severely trafficked victims and trafficked women in the hearing before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Out of the Shadows: The Global Fight Against Human Trafficking. Lagon asserts, “Despite global trafficking foci and flashpoints, there are no “lesser” victims of trafficking. Since TIP’s essence is groups denied equal dignity, let us not in our anti-TIP policy privilege some victims over others. They are all of equal value in humankind.”
Testifying for trafficking victims can be dangerous. In most circumstances traffickers threaten to kill victims’ families if they tell authorities about their captivity, so most remain silent. This also draws a clear distinction between international victims and domestic victims in that they are unable to receive assistance for their sexual exploitation through organizations who provide safe housing, protection from traffickers, medical and psychological attention, and training so victims can become functioning members of society.
When a victim of human trafficking has been determined a “severe trafficking victim,” or a prostitute, the care provided is drastically different. If a victim is unwilling to cooperate with the prosecution of the trafficker or is determined a prostitute by the Attorney General only after cooperating with federal and local law enforcement officials, deportation is most often their fate. But at what point does a victim of severe trafficking and prostitution cross? Is it only minors that are victims of trafficking?
During the “Out of the Shadows” hearing Mark Lagon states, “First of all, if lured into the sex trade as a minor, does it suddenly become a choice the day someone turns 18? Moreover, we know that numerous adult females in the global sex trade are subject to force, fraud, or coercion – including subtle psychological terror and trickery – making them trafficking victims even under the strict standards of the Palermo Protocol.” Yet this standard does not extend to the TVPA.
Ambassador at large, Luis CdeBaca, from the Office to Monitor & Combat Trafficking in Persons of the U.S. State Department, declares the Office’s goal is to, “Strengthen trafficking victims’ protection and assistance by encouraging cooperation between governments and NGOs, and enhancing the capacity of civil society organizations so they might provide comprehensive services that fully address the needs of victims. We will support evidence-based research to evaluate the impact of our programs and fill core data gaps. We will partner with the private sector to leverage resources and expertise to develop innovative solutions to this age old problem.” To echo the advice of CdeBaca, Lagon also insists the utilization of services such as, “NGOs and more efficacious international organizations – like the International Organization of Migration (IOM)” to aid in the support and protection of sex trafficking victims.
To mirror the suggestions of the anti-sex trafficking movement, there needs to be more services available to victims of this tragedy. Turning away victims because they do not fit into specific criteria is counter-productive. The greatest majority of women and children do not choose this life; they are virtually always thrown into this situation by force, coercion, or economic disparities they cannot overcome. Currently, political asylum is not the rule it is the exception; this should be altered so we treat every sexually exploited human as a victim.