January. A New Year. A beginning, perhaps an end. A month full of added workouts, healthier foods, and a commitment to a “better” life. Every month has it’s thing. February – Valentines Day, school vacation for the kiddos and educators; March – drinkfest for St. Patty’s day and Spring break for college students; April — weather starts to get nicer, Easter, the Earth begins to bloom again… we all have things we look forward to each and every month. We also have our priorities, passions, and commitments that roll over each month. Whether it is our personal life or our professional, we have responsibilities, goals and achievements each and every month. Behind all of this hope for upcoming events and intertwined with the priorities, passions, and commitments, several months are dedicated to a cause or social issue. In October we are bombarded with everything pink and reminded to Save the Ta Tas for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. The list goes on. For many, these causes and issues remain in the background — just words on a billboard or poster on the train. For others, these causes and issues make up a large part of who they are — perhaps a victim of sexual assault or a widow to a wife who died of breast cancer. And then for others, these causes and issues define their passion and they are dedicated to resolutions and a better place.
You see, January isn’t just a New Year beginning with empty promises to myself or a change of who I am and who I want to be. January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month (as of 2013, deemed by President Obama) and January 11th is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. January is dedicated to an issue that I am extremely passionate about and that my personal and professional life are wrapped up in every day.
When people hear human trafficking, it conjures images of poor, vulnerable children in Thailand, India, or Africa. Most people don’t think it’s happening in the U.S., never mind their own back yard. People are right, it is happening in places like Thailand, India, and Africa, but it’s also happening in Europe, South America, Australia, and the United States. Human trafficking is happening every where. Foreign-nationals are being victimized in our country as well as domestic individuals.
Every day, women, men, and children are stripped from the life they were living and forced into prostitution, domestic servitude, or other labor such as construction work, restaurant work, or hair/nail salons. These victims are paid little, if anything, fed maybe one meal a day, live in abhorrent homes, and experience severe physical, sexual, and emotional trauma.
Every year, between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States. Right now, in the U.S., there are approximately 300,000 children at risk for being trafficked and exploited. Today, in 2013, there are more people enslaved in the world than at the peak of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade. Estimates quote around 27 million slaves in the world.
Statistics to some are just numbers. Rightfully so. But when we can estimate that up to 17,500 individuals are being trafficked into the U.S. every year and yet over 10 years (2002-2012), the United States has only granted immigration relief through the T-Visa (visa for foreign-born victims trafficked into the U.S.) for roughly 2,400 people, The Violence Against Women Act just died in the 112th Congress because the GOP couldn’t bare to see protections expanded to immigrants, the LGBTQ community, and Native Americans.Within this act was the U-Visa — immigration relief for foreign-nationals who were victims of a crime in this country, including human trafficking. The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 was not reauthorized in 2011 and also died. The Act is the centerpiece of policies against human trafficking in the U.S. Our government — the officials WE elected, have failed us.
I am outraged. You should be too. Exploitation, violence, and slavery is not dead, Congress so the laws embedded with protections and services for those who are victimized should not be dead either. I have faith that the 113th Congress can look justice in the eye and do the right thing for the American people and those seeking safety and protections on our soil.
We are the land of the free. Home of the brave. The country dripping with opportunity and success. Yet slavery is happening in our backyard. It is hidden in plain sight — we MUST look beneath the surface. We have a lot of work to do but great work is already happening too. Support a local agency that does advocacy work to combat human trafficking or a social service provider that works directly with survivors of human trafficking. Volunteer your time or make an in-kind donation. Talk about the issue with your friends, family, and co-workers. Be smart consumers. Read about the issue. Urge your representatives to reauthorize VAWA and the TVPA and increase services for victims and their families. Consider how you can prevent the crime from occurring against the children in your community and the adults looking for work.Stand up for freedom.
As Obama said in his Proclamation on on December 31, 2012:
We reflect on the Amendment that wrote abolition into law, the decades of struggle to make its promise real, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that has drawn nations together in the pursuit of equality and justice. These achievements once seemed impossible — but on this day, let us remember that they were not, and let us press on toward the future we know is possible.