So you want to actually do something?… Learn how to effectively advocate against human trafficking
by: Chelsea Banister
The word “advocate” is thrown around a lot these days to describe people engaged in a variety of activities related to numerous causes. As someone who considers herself an advocate in the fight against human trafficking, I always try to focus on tangible action steps that we can take to further this specific cause. Lobbying our representatives in government is an easy and effective advocacy effort that steps beyond the conventional calls for awareness or even fund-raising. However, being an effective lobbyist requires a basic understanding of the laws about human trafficking, which often hinders the large majority of us who haven’t been to law school or don’t rank the U.S. Code among our favorite bedtime reading options. The goal of this post, therefore, is to give a brief overview of current and proposed trafficking-related legislation and to offer simple ways to advocate for stronger anti-trafficking policies.
The Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act was originally passed by Congress in 2000, and has since been re-authorized in 2003, 2005, and 2008, with the contents of the bills being implemented into the US Code, the main body of federal laws (see USC Title 22 Chapter 78, Trafficking Victims Protection and USC Title 18 Chapter 77, or see in the context of the general US Code). Not only does this legislation criminalize human trafficking, offering better tools with which to prosecute traffickers, but each subsequent re-authorization has laid out exact amounts of money that Congress has then included in its budget for the appropriate fiscal years, which has been essential to fund the efforts of anti-trafficking organizations and to provide services to victims of trafficking. The TVPA of 2011 unfortunately was not passed with the same speed as its previous reauthorization acts, and versions of the bill are still stuck in the Senate and the House of Representatives (track the progress of each group’s version of the bill here).
As a US citizen, lobbying your representatives in Congress to pass this legislation is actually easier than you might think. The Polaris Project has created a tool through which they will send an email to your Senators on your behalf. Unfortunately there have been several significant changes to the original House bill that has left it far more controversial and ultimately less effective than the version drafted in the Senate, and so I encourage you to focus your efforts on the Senate to pass their version, which will then hopefully be approved by the House and come into effect.
Another important piece of legislation that needs your support is the End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act. Since this blog post is already becoming quite lengthy, I won’t go into too much detail here, but please check out this brief and informative article on the issue by Holly Burkhalter, the Vice President of Government Relations at International Justice Mission, a human rights NGO that pursues anti-trafficking initiatives around the world. In summary, there are almost 70,000 victims of trafficking “employed” on U.S. military bases around the world right now, and this legislation will force the major U.S. government contractors to exercise more oversight in their hiring processes.
One of the best things about these two bills lies in their bipartisan nature, with supporters from both sides of the Congressional isle; so no matter your political leanings, remember that this is far more an issue of humanity than an issue of politics. I know that we live in a cynical age where the hope of a properly functioning political system seems foolishly idyllic. But at the end of the day, politicians exist through a simple aggregate of votes, and if enough of the voices behind those votes are calling for the same thing, the politicians will respond. History has proved this time and again, and I encourage you to do your part in ensuring that the travesty of human trafficking is something for which your voice makes a real difference, for which you become an advocate.
UNC-Chapel Hill, class of 2012
Former Anti-Human Trafficking Assistant, Carolina Women’s Center
If you’re interested in learning more or responding to this blog post, please feel free to contact Chelsea at firstname.lastname@example.org