FN Statement on President’s Anti-Trafficking Speech in New York

The Freedom Network Applauds President Obama’s Anti-Trafficking Announcement

“But for all the progress that we’ve made, the bitter truth is that trafficking also goes on right here, in the United States.  It’s the migrant worker unable to pay off the debt to his trafficker.  The man, lured here with the promise of a job, his documents then taken, and forced to work endless hours in a kitchen.  The teenage girl, beaten, forced to walk the streets.  This should not be happening in the United States of America.”  – President Barack Obama

NEW YORK – September 26, 2012 – The Freedom Network (USA), a network of 30 anti-trafficking direct service organizations and advocates founded in 2001, applauds President Barack Obama’s speech on human trafficking at the Clinton Global Initiative event on September 26th.  We are excited to hear more about how the Administration will expand anti-trafficking efforts in the United States.

President Obama is the first U.S. president to offer a significant speech solely about human trafficking, so we were pleased that he offered a global perspective and described human trafficking inclusively, noting that it can involve people of any gender, occupation, or nationality. The case examples he used were reflective of the exploitation we have observed in our direct work with survivors in the U.S. We were honored that representatives from at least two member organizations — including a survivor-advocate — were invited to attend.

“I was pleased that the President acknowledged all the forms of trafficking that can occur and treated the survivors in the room with dignity, not with alarmist rhetoric or exploitive language.”  - Florrie Burke, Freedom Network Chair Emeritus

One of President Obama’s action steps involves increased training of law enforcement, investigators and others.  We salute this effort: the Freedom Network Training Institute has been providing a comprehensive training on the response to human trafficking to tens of thousands of multi-disciplinary audiences since 2003. We have learned how critical training is to maximizing the capacity of law enforcement agencies to identify all types of trafficking they might encounter.

It is important for advocates and policymakers to remember that human trafficking survivors are more than “victims” in need of liberation, but rather the experts on their own life experiences, with ideas on how policies and programs can be improved. We were happy to hear President Obama honor that idea, and to express his intention to look at root causes and the conditions that make people vulnerable.

While “rescue” is a hot buzzword and there is strong temptation to spend most of our energy on prosecutions and punishment, focusing on survivor empowerment, respecting self-determination, and building strong, comprehensive social services are critical to a rights-based approach to combating human trafficking. In our experience as direct service providers, these factors often matter more to survivors than a criminal prosecution.

We look forward to the roll-out of the new effort by Humanity United and their multi-million dollar challenge to local communities to find new ways to care for trafficked persons. In particular, we were happy to see a focus on housing for all types of survivors. Safe, culturally appropriate, and affordable long- and short-term housing has been one of the most common barriers we’ve had to address in case management, especially in large metro areas.

The President’s speech addressed many of the principles we care about as a network, and we hope that his announcement will reflect a new energy and commitment to combating human trafficking and assisting survivors, but he may have a difficult road ahead. He noted that one of the Administration’s action steps will be to “help victims recover and rebuild their lives.” Yet only a few blocks away from the White House, our Congress has allowed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to expire with no hope for a vote on reauthorization this year. The TVPA provides for much of the prevention programs and social service funding that need to be expanded. We thank the President for his attention to this issue and look forward to his leadership and activism to ensure that this critical federal legislation continues to be authorized and improved.

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About The Freedom Network

The Freedom Network (USA) is a national coalition of direct service providers and advocates who are committed to a rights-based approach to addressing human trafficking.  Established in 2001, our member organizations work with a full spectrum of human trafficking survivors, and approach the issue from diverse perspectives, including immigrant women and children’s rights, victim and social services, migrant farm worker advocacy, and human rights activism. The Freedom Network recognizes that human trafficking is fueled by complex and interconnected factors, including poverty and economic injustice, racism, gender-based discrimination, and political strife. At its core, the crime of trafficking is a violation of an individual’s basic human rights and personal freedom. Thus, we believe that a rights-based approach is fundamental to combating human trafficking and ensuring justice for trafficked persons.

 

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