Progress in the fight against human trafficking


While much progress has been made over the past two decades since historic measures to combat human trafficking were put in place, there is still much work to be done and federal and international representation must continue to be involved.

Left to right, Susan G. Esserman and Kari Johnstone.

It was the main theme of “Critical Updates: Combatting Human Trafficking, Federal and International,” a two-panel virtual program held on January 20. The conference was a collaboration between two centers at the University of Maryland Graduate School: the University of Maryland SAFE (Support Advocacy Freedom Empowerment) Center for Survivors of Human Trafficking led by Founding Ambassador and Director Susan G. Esserman, JD, and the Center for Global Engagement, under the leadership of the Assistant Vice President Virginia Rowthorn, JD, LLM. The program was also organized in conjunction with the Montgomery County Human Trafficking Prevention Committee and the Prince George’s County Human Trafficking Task Force.

The purpose of the virtual meeting was to obtain information on recent developments in United States anti-trafficking policy and programs from experienced government officials from the Departments of Justice, Health, and Human Services, and homeland security, and to host expert reviews on international counter-trafficking issues.

“I am simply amazed at the people we have been able to bring together and I want to thank them,” said the UMB president. Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, as he welcomed panel participants and the virtual audience. “This program is intended to provide you with critical updates in the fight against human trafficking, and there have been many advances. There are still many challenges, but I think you will be happy to hear what are some of the advances, what effects they have had on the ground, as well as the victims of human trafficking.

Jarrell remembers meeting Esserman five years ago when she was discussing the vision she had for creating the SAFE Center.

“It was a center and it is a center that was aimed at combating human trafficking, a crime that we all know is a serious violation of human rights,” Jarrell said. “I learned a lot about this crime from Ambassador Esserman. I learned this is a problem in our own backyard. I learned that it is invisible to most of us. And because of her vision and her drive, and the fact that she convinced me of that, I had the honor of helping her establish this center as part of a partnership between two universities, the ‘University of Maryland College Park and University of Maryland, Baltimore. ”

An initiative of the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) and the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) through its formal Collaborative Innovation Program, the University of Maryland: MPowering the State, the SAFE Center is a center for direct service, research and advocacy that provides a comprehensive and holistic response to help survivors move from crisis to well-being. Its mission is to empower survivors of trafficking to heal and reclaim their lives, to better support them through research and advocacy, and to help prevent human trafficking. Through in-house support and collaborative partnerships, the Center provides bilingual social, legal, mental health, economic empowerment, primary medical and crisis intervention services to survivors of sex trafficking and sex work. all genders, nationalities and ages.

The Center has worked with schools at both universities to provide services to several hundred survivors of human trafficking and their family members, launched an innovative economic empowerment program for survivors, advocated for national anti-trafficking legislation, promoted state and local efforts to combat labor trafficking, implemented trafficking prevention workshops at local international high schools, and trained more than 5,000 professionals on human trafficking, Jarrell said.

Speakers included officials from the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Labor, as well as survivor leaders and other agencies and organizations. Senior Civil Servant Kari Johnstone, PhD, MA, Principal Deputy Director of the Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Human Trafficking, delivered the keynote address.

In his opening remarks for the event, Esserman noted that 2020 marks the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. children, and historic anti-trafficking legislation for victims of trafficking. Protection Act which established methods of prosecuting traffickers, preventing human trafficking and protecting victims and survivors of trafficking. The law established human trafficking and related offenses as federal crimes.

“While much progress has been made over the past two decades, government anti-trafficking advocates and survivors generally recognize that a more comprehensive strategic approach with new tools is needed to effectively combat human trafficking. local, national and international levels,” said Esserman. , an international business partner at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson, where she also leads the firm’s pro bono program on behalf of survivors of human trafficking. During the Clinton administration, she served as Assistant US Trade Representative and Assistant Secretary of Commerce.

“Today you will hear critical updates from government officials and survivor leaders with extensive experience on the front lines of the fight against human trafficking. We hope this program helps practitioners and survivors to better navigate and benefit from policies and programs of change,” Esserman said, before introducing Johnstone.

“The past two years have not been easy,” said Johnstone, who advises senior officials on US government policy and strategy to combat global human trafficking. “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated and continues to exacerbate economic inequality, particularly among historically and systemically marginalized groups, create job insecurity in some sectors, and disrupt global supply chains. Traffickers operating around the world are taking advantage of this economic uncertainty and the diversion of resources and services to the pandemic to exploit vulnerable people.

While human trafficking continues to be underreported, the crime is far more prevalent than statistics indicate, Johnstone continued.

“The security, economic, social justice and public health ramifications of human trafficking affect individuals and communities everywhere,” she said. “For example, forced labor has been found in virtually every industry and region around the world, affecting the supply chains of many of the goods we buy. Human trafficking undermines our values, creates unfair advantages for those who exploit workers, undermines legitimate businesses and misleads consumers about the true cost of goods.

The pandemic has affected sex trafficking, solicitation and methods of recruiting adults and children. According to Johnstone, online recruiting and grooming increased, especially as children spent more time online for virtual learning due to school closures, often with little parental oversight.

“Reports from several countries have demonstrated a drastic increase in commercial sexual exploitation and online sex trafficking, including online child sexual exploitation and the demand for and distribution of child sexual exploitation material. Although these are significant challenges, we are unwavering in our efforts to combat trafficking,” she said. The federal government updated its National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, which the White House released in December. “This represents a whole-of-government approach to addressing this crime and these human rights abuses,” Johnstone said, noting that overall the plan contains more than 60 priority actions to be completed over the next three months. years.

“Without a doubt, there is a lot of work ahead of us in 2022,” Johnstone said. “But we are already rolling up our sleeves and getting to work. Each of us, including all of you at this event today, has a role to play in the fight against human trafficking, whether in federal, state or local governments, as advocates or providers of services, in the private sector or individual citizens.

Participants in a federal panel moderated by Renée Battle-Brooks, Executive Director of the Prince George’s County Office of Human Rights and Chair of the Prince George’s County Human Trafficking Task Force, included:

  • Karen Stauss, Senior Policy Advisor, Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, Department of Justice
  • Katherine Chon, Founding Director, Office on Trafficking in Persons and Senior Adviser on Human Trafficking, Department of Health and Human Services
  • Ramon Padilla, Acting Division Chief, Center for Countering Human Trafficking, Department of Homeland Security
  • Tanya M. Gould, expert and chief survivor consultant; Vice Chairman of the US Advisory Council on Human Trafficking; Director of Anti-Human Trafficking for the Attorney General of Virginia

The second panel, focused on international issues and moderated by Esserman, included:

  • Thea Lee, Deputy Under Secretary for International Labor Affairs, Department of Labor
  • Charita Castro, Deputy Assistant, United States Trade Representative for Labor Affairs
  • Philip Hunter, Head of Labor Migration Unit, International Organization for Migration
  • Ronny Marty, independent consultant against worker trafficking; surviving leader; Member, International Advisory Council on Trafficking in Survivors, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe

This program can be viewed in its entirety by accessing the video link at the top of this page.


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