The Human Face of Human Trafficking

chained wrists

Suppose, just for a moment, you are a 13-year-old girl who has been trafficked in America, the land of the free.

You’ve been brought to the U.S. – kidnapped, sold by your impoverished family, picked up from the streets of some land where girls have no value – and prostituted. Or more likely here, you’re a very unlucky American child victimized by traffickers. As a result of this tragic history, you are pregnant. Or, you survived God knows what only to become a 20-something victim of human trafficking – which now leaves you pregnant.

You should be forced to carry this pregnancy to term? Excuse me?

This is the human face of the human trafficking bill currently being held up in the Senate. Texas Senator John Cornyn’s “Justice for Victims of Human Trafficking” bill would “boost support for and protection of victims of human trafficking” – unless they happen to get pregnant. Once they become pregnant, that support and protection disappears. Tucked away within the multi-page piece of legislation is a stipulation that abortion could not be paid for with these funds.

It’s the old Hyde Amendment thing – the bill passed late in the 20th century that sent women’s reproductive rights straight back into the 19th century with the stipulation that never a federal dollar would be paid to help them end unwanted pregnancies.

Some young trafficking victims might still seek help, since there are now exceptions in cases of rape or incest. But the fact that the victim herself would bear the responsibility for proving the circumstances of her pregnancy is an insult added to egregious injury.

Human faces get lost in congressional rancor. Senators accuse one another of subterfuge and betrayal. Republicans accuse Democrats of one thing, Democrats accuse Republicans of another. Very little gets done. And in it all, the human faces disappear: faces of mere children who never had a break, of women of every age who deserve a life.

If they had voices, those faces might say, “Remember me?”

Social justice & the American Bar Association

In the land of the free, says American Bar Association President Laurel Bellows, there are hundreds of thousands of individuals who are today unfree. They include men, women and children forced into labor or sex for the benefit of others, in a multi-million dollar industry that extends into virtually every corner of the U.S. But if Bellows and the ABA task force formed to combat human trafficking have their way, this will change.

Bellows spoke recently to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, outlining two of the top concerns of her current focus. The other, the cyber-war against individuals, business and governments, is hardly brighter: hackers are at work around the clock seeking to play tricks, steal identities, control the electric grid, spread terror or commit an endless variety of criminal acts…”and our own government says we’re not prepared.”

Laurel Bellows, though, believes “in the power of community, the power to change our world or preserve it – and the rule of law.”

Among the potential solutions for which the ABA is advocating are uniform state laws (“There are two people responsible for prostitution: the woman, and the john”), “Safe Harbor” laws and the use of employment manuals in fighting human trafficking. She also cites the Polaris Project, a national non-profit working to combat human trafficking through, among other things, a national hotline, 1-888-373-7888.

In an allotted 65 minutes including the Q&A, covering the territories of her passion was not an easy task. But Bellows, a diminutive (4’11”) blond whose high energy and crackling intellect quickly erase any just-a-pretty-face image notion her audience might have, tossed in one more for good measure: gender equity. On every level, from manual labor to corporate boardrooms, she says, women are still paid less than their male counterparts.

Bellows’coverage of a depressing array of thorny problems carried at least a few reassuring hints of possible solutions. Maybe, among its nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association will find a few problem-solvers; and if so, they will have the support of everyone who’s pulling for social justice in our struggling land of the free.

Trafficking In Persons Report Map 2010
Trafficking In Persons Report Map 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This writer votes for Caitlin Borgmann and her Reproductive Rights blog for the ABA Journal – even if Laurel Bellows didn’t get time to dig into that one.