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Human trafficking and sex trafficking are one of the biggest crimes across the globe, and also in the United States. While human trafficking in the U.S. is talked about far less often than trafficking abroad, it is becoming a bigger issue than ever. As of this writing, an estimated 300,000 children in the United States are at risk of falling victim to sex trafficking and exploitation; this figure does not even take into account the adults who are at risk or already being trafficked. Women and girls have the highest risk of being taken for sex trafficking purposes. This is due to many sociological factors including rape culture, objectification and infantilization of women, male dominance and entitlement, and poverty. Because sex trafficking disproportionately affects women, it is undoubtedly a feminist issue.
Unfortunately, organizations that strive to offer help to the victims of human trafficking and sex trafficking in the United States and globally are often severely underfunded. This means that women and girls are often turned away from shelters simply because there is not enough room for them, and that what services these organizations can provide are too limited. Luckily, there is a federal fund called the Crime Victims Fund that exists solely to offer aid to victims of crimes, including victims of sex trafficking. However, in 2015 when trying to pass a budget, Congress decided to take $1.5 billion out of the Crime Victims Fund to try and settle some of the national debt. This tactic shows just how little the American Government cares about its women citizens, especially those who are victims of human trafficking, abuse, or other crimes.
This is simply unacceptable, and Congress needs to recognize that and put the money back into the Fund. That is why for this campaign to end sexism I am proposing a lobbying campaign to put pressure on Congress to put the funds back. This campaign is called Respect the Fund. I will spread the word about the cutting from the Crime Victims Fund using social media such as Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #RespectTheFund. Then, once awareness is raised I will encourage people to write letters to and call their district and state representatives to put pressure on them to give the money back to the Victim Crimes Fund. Hopefully with enough pressure, Congress will reverse this erroneous decision.
The United Nations defines human trafficking as the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or a position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation” (Clift, 2015). While many Americans tend to think of human trafficking as an issue that is prevalent in other countries, the truth is that the human trafficking industry is alive and well here in the United States, and sex trafficking is especially prevalent.
Globally, sex trafficking is currently the fastest growing criminal industry, as well as the second largest behind drug and illegal arms trafficking. It is estimated that 27 million adults and 13 million children worldwide are victims of human trafficking, which includes sex trafficking as well as forced labor and organ harvesting. Of those sold into sex trafficking, eighty percent are under the age of 24, and some are as young as 3 (Clift, 2015). An estimated 30,000 victims of sex trafficking die every year from torture, abuse, neglect, and disease. Additionally, victims are often conditioned into being less resistant through the use of torture, rape, forced drug use, isolation, confinement, and threats on family members. In today’s world, there are more human slaves than ever before in history (Clift, 2015).
The average age of entry into sex trafficking for American minors is between 12-14 years old. According to recent statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, about 300,000 children in the United States are at risk of sex trafficking and exploitation annually (Clift, 2015). The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) compiled a report based on data from December 7, 2007 to December 31, 2012 that compiled data from information the organization received from its hotline. The report, Human Trafficking Trends in the United States, contains data on the most common forms of sex trafficking, the demographics of victims, and the states with the highest number of reported cases. In the time range that the data is from, human trafficking cases were reported in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The most common form of sex trafficking in the United States is pimp-controlled prostitution, which comprised about 42% of cases reported to the NHTRC. A frequently used process, pimp-controlled prostitution starts when pimps recruit their victims by showing romantic interest in them, but then later forcing them into prostitution. In most reports such as this, pimps advertised sex acts online. Over 60% of sex trafficking cases involving pimp-controlled prostitution involved American citizen victims (WomenPolice, 2014). Traffickers were reported most often to be U.S. citizen males trafficking young adult and minor females.
Domestic work comprised the majority of labor trafficking at 27%; it is important to note that domestic workers are also frequently verbally, physically, and sexually abused by the people they live with (WomenPolice, 2014). 84% of victims in these cases were from outside of the United States, with the most frequently cited countries being Ethiopia, Kenya, Mexico, India, and the Philippines. The five states with the highest number of reported cases are California, with the highest number, followed by Texas, Florida, New York, and Illinois. Children were referenced in 2,668 of the 9,298 unique cases used to compile the report. Children were the reported victims in 20% of labor trafficking cases and 33% of sex trafficking cases (WomenPolice, 2014).
One would think that, considering human trafficking and sex trafficking are still such a prevalent issue within the United States, law and government officials would be doing everything within their power to combat it and help its victims. Unfortunately, this is not the case. All too often, victims who escape sex trafficking are charged with prostitution, despite the fact that they were coerced and forced into the business and made no profit. This is especially a problem for children who escape sex trafficking. Even though international and federal law mandates that children who are found in the commercial sex trade be treated as victims of trafficking and not as prostitutes, states and localities across the United States fail to follow these laws. Every year, over 1,000 children in the United States are arrested for prostitution, even though most of them are too young to even legally consent to sex (Clift, 2015).
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 looked promising at first. The bill wanted to strengthen the ability of law enforcement to pursue people who buy sex from trafficked girls and women in order to fine them. The collected fines were to be placed in the Crime Victims Fund, which is a collection comprised entirely of criminal fines, forfeited bail bonds, and penalty money. Originally, the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act received great amounts of supports from Democrats and Republicans alike (Clift, 2015). After all, everyone knows that sex trafficking is a despicable practice, so who could vote against such a bill?
Unfortunately, congressional Republicans took advantage of this opportunity and put anti-abortion language into the bill at the last minute before it was to be voted on. These additions would have stopped victims from receiving federal aid from the Crime Victims Fund that would allow them to terminate pregnancies conceived during their trafficking. Senate Democrats fortunately caught these additions before the bill was voted on, and the bill was thusly stalled. After a month of debate, the bill passed and was signed into law. However, the compromise found between the two parties still included some anti-abortion provisions. The representatives settled on having two streams of funds in the bill: one that collects fines from traffickers and uses them for survivor services with the exclusion of health care, and one that comes from community health center funds, which are already subject to abortion limits (Bendery, 2015). Yet again, political anti-abortion rhetoric refuses to treat women and girls as people, even those who are survivors of sex trafficking.
The patriarchal society in which we live places such a low value on women’s lives that instances such as what happened with the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act occur far too often. Misogyny is alive and well in America today, and this is proven by the actions of our elected representatives. Women’s rights issues, even ones that have nothing to do with abortion, are frequently co-opted for other purposes or fashioned into an anti-abortion rhetoric, all serving as oppressors to women, whether it is on a small or large scale.
While sex trafficking is an issue that affects all genders, it is important to note that it overwhelmingly affects women. This makes it very much a feminist issue. Women’s objectification and lower status in society makes us more susceptible to crimes such as sex trafficking. Women are also more likely than men to live in poverty, which also makes a person more susceptible to human trafficking (Shaw & Lee, 2012). This being a women’s issue also means that sex trafficking is an issue that gets less media coverage and attention, less funding, and even less sympathy than issues that affect both genders equally or issues that affect men more (Danis, 2013). Because of the anti-sex work attitude of the United States, women who escape sex trafficking often have their motives and circumstances questioned.
Far too often, victims of sex trafficking are treated as criminals and arrested for prostitution. Victim-blaming happens to victims of sex trafficking, too. Victims of sex trafficking are told that they made bad decisions that ended up with them being forced into trafficking in the first place, that they didn’t fight back hard enough against their traffickers and rapists, that they allowed themselves to be placed in their situations. Their pain and suffering is not taken seriously, and as such not enough is done to combat it.
Another piece of legislation that was drafted and signed into law with the intent of providing much-needed legal and financial assistance to victims of human trafficking was the Victims of Crime Act of 1984. The Victims of Crime Act is for all people who are victims of crime within the United States, not just those who suffered at the hands of human trafficking, but the Act provides a great deal of help to human trafficking victims especially. One very important part of the Victims of Crime Act was the establishment of the Crime Victims Fund (the Fund). The Fund is a major source of aid for services which victims throughout the nation need (Devlin, 2015). The Fund compensates victims of crimes for medical costs, funeral and burial costs, mental health counseling, and lost wages/support resulting from escaping an abusive situation. The Fund also covers victim assistance, which includes emergency shelter and transportation, crisis intervention, counseling, and criminal justice advocacy. The Fund is made up entirely of fines and penalties collected from convicted criminals; it receives no taxpayer dollars. When the Fund was first created, federal law restricted the use of money in the Fund so that it may only be used to help victims of crime (Devlin, 2015).
However, this year after failing to pass a budget and at risk of shutting down the federal government, Congress chose to take $1.5 billion dollars out of the Crime Victims Fund. Congress made the decision to override the federal laws restricting the use of this money for anything other than providing aid to victims of crimes. Instead, these funds are going to be used to try and settle some of the federal debt (Devlin, 2015). Instead of cutting from the United States’ ridiculously high defense budget, the money will be coming from a fund comprised of no taxpayer dollars whose sole purpose was to be a source of aid for victims of crime. This is simply unacceptable, and the legislators know that.
This is why I am proposing a campaign called Respect the Fund. My campaign will consist of two parts: raising awareness on social media and then using this awareness to put pressure on House and Senate representatives. The first part of my campaign involves the use of social media to spread the word about the Crime Victims Fund, and how Congress has taken from it. This step is crucial because most everyday Americans have no idea that the Crime Victims Fund even exists, let alone that Congress took money from it just this year. I plan on using the help of friends along with my own expertise to make a graphical video on the subject. The video will contain both facts about human trafficking in the United States and information about the Crime Victims Fund. With any luck the video will gain ground and be spread around various social media websites using the hashtag #RespectTheFund.
In the video, I will encourage viewers to email, write, and call their district representatives in the House of Representatives and their state representatives in the Senate. I will provide a script for people to base their letters and phone calls off of should they so desire. This will make it even easier for people to contact their representatives, which will hopefully encourage more people to express their disapproval. Congressional representatives care more about their constituents’ opinions on subjects more than we are led to believe, especially when their constituents are angry enough to the point where they will put forth the effort to make a phone call or write a letter or email, because representatives depend on their constituents for re-election.
If the campaign is successful and enough pressure is applied to Congress that they decide to reverse their decision to take $1.5 billion away from the Crime Victims Fund, that will be the conclusion of the campaign. However, if the campaign does not reach initial success and Congress makes no changes to their decision, the fight is not completely lost. The campaign, in this scenario, could try to resurface next year when the government yet again must pass a federal budget. The goal of the campaign this time would be to prevent any further funds from being taken out of the Crime Victims Fund.
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