Guest Post by Sue Preziotti from the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting
President Obama devoted his remarks this week at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) to the issue of human trafficking.
Human trafficking – or slavery – may sometimes be thought of as a problem outside the U.S., but President Obama made clear that while it’s a global issue that requires a global solution, “the bitter truth is that trafficking also goes on right here, in the United States.”
The 2012 U.S. State Department Human Trafficking Report, which for the first time includes an analysis of America, estimates 27 million people worldwide are victims of slavery in several forms including prostitution and forced labor. The number of victims in the U.S. is estimated to reach into the hundreds of thousands, according to the Polaris Project.
The President explained, “it’s the man who’s lured here with the promise of a job, then has his documents taken and is forced to work endless hours in a kitchen. Or the teenage girl, who is held, beaten and forced to walk the streets.”
“This should not be happening in the United States of America.”
Modern slavery, he said, “is a debasement of our common humanity” that tears at our social fabric, distorts markets, endangers public health and fuels violence and organized crime.
He reminded the audience that the U.S. has taken a stand against slavery for 150 years -- beginning with the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed American slaves, and with participation in the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in 1948. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act was signed by President Clinton in 2000, and the President called on Congress to renew it this year.
Under the Obama Administration, an interagency task force has been expanded and more intelligence resources devoted to identifying trafficking networks. The President said that last year, a record number of predators were charged with human trafficking. The FBI website shows two sentencings in trafficking cases just this month.
But, President Obama said there’s more to do and announced a number of steps to help increase understanding of the issue, strengthen law enforcement and support victims.
Among these are a new government assessment, enhanced training, exploration of new technology tools, improved victim support coordination across federal government, simplification of Visa procedures for foreign victims helping prosecute traffickers, an executive order helping ensure U.S. contractors do not engage in forced labor, and a new focus by the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
The President indicated that America will continue to be a leader in global efforts with a comprehensive strategy that includes partnering with organizations worldwide, helping other countries step up their efforts, giving them incentives and calling them out when they fail to meet their responsbilities. “I recently renewed sanctions on some of the worst abusers, including North Korea and Eritrea."
Throughout his speech, the President appealed to our sense of humanity with powerful examples of the pain, suffering and aloneness of those held captive against their will. The emotion culminated when he drew attention to two women in the audience who escaped their plight as slaves – one from Indonesia and one from New York -- and are now working as advocates. Sheila White, who grew up in the Bronx, fled an abusive home as a teenager and met a man who sold her at 15 to men who raped and beat her. It took years with the help of a non-profit led by other survivors for her to escape and get help. She earned her GED and today is a powerful advocate who helped pass a new anti-trafficking law in New York.
Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who has covered the issue for many years, wrote a compelling article with personal accounts, “In Obama's Speech, Their Voices.”
The personal stories illustrate what President Obama summed up as, “It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.”
“Our fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time, and the United States will continue to lead it.”
The President’s full remarks can be viewed at:
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