Ensuring the Well-Being of all Victims of Human Trafficking
By Katherine Chon, Senior Advisor on Trafficking in Persons
Communities across the country are coming together to take action this month, proclaimed by President Barack Obama as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, marking more than a decade of work to better identify, protect and serve victims.
A year ago, Acting Assistant Secretary George Sheldon described the importance of awareness and then took action to raise the priority within the administration to effectively address our evolving understanding of human trafficking.
Today, we recognize that victims and survivors who have been exploited in both labor and commercial sexual exploitation are:
- Adults and Children
- Men and Women
- Foreign National, U.S. Citizens and Residents
In my own experiences working directly with survivors of human trafficking, I recall the diversity of residents in a small emergency housing space where I practiced Spanish with a domestic worker from Latin America who ultimately escaped her abuse by jumping out of a third story window; shared pizza with two teenagers from the Midwest who took a fun summer cross-country trip to DC only to be forced into prostitution; and watched late night Asian drama episodes with women forced into prostitution in a massage parlor.
Community coalitions and task forces in every state have also identified that victims of human trafficking were interacting with multiple social service and criminal justice systems, requiring increased coordination across those systems. The Administration for Children and Families responded to this need by appointing a Senior Advisor on Trafficking in Persons within the Immediate Office of the Assistant Secretary, which I filled two months ago. This new position will work to magnify the impact of anti-trafficking work across multiple programs, including:
- Office of Refugee Resettlement working with foreign national victims
- Family and Youth Services Bureau working with victims in the thousands of domestic violence and runaway and homeless youth programs
- Children’s Bureau addressing needs within the child welfare system
In the last two months, ACF has increased capacity to strengthen coordination of victim services within HHS and across federal agencies, especially with our partners at the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. This month kicks off year-long efforts that will result in a 5-year Federal Strategic Action Plan on victim services and federal guidance to child welfare and runaway homeless youth systems, among many other anticipated policy and community outreach efforts that seek to ensure that all survivors have access to the support needed for resilient, safe, and economically secure lives.