WASHINGTON, February 3, 2014 ─ In September 2012, President Barack Obama spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative and openly declared a U.S. initiative to address human trafficking.
In his speech, Obama called for a national action plan to better identify victims of human trafficking and address their aftercare needs. Last month, the White House administration announced a five-year “Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the Unites States, a collaborative effort involving more than 15 agencies across the Federal Government.” Co-chairs of the Plan include Eric H. Holder, Jr., Attorney General; Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services; and Jeh Charles Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security.
In an introductory statement, the co-chairs acknowledged nationwide efforts to combat human trafficking and proposed that the Plan would strengthen “coordination, collaboration, and capacity across governmental and nongovernmental entities dedicated to providing support to the victims of human trafficking.” Further, the President’s Interagency Task Force (PITF) to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons recognized “that services must be provided in a manner that respects survivors and endeavors to integrate their experience and their voice.”
As outlined by the Plan, the first goal is to align efforts. The objective under that goal states that Federal agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Service (HHS), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) “will work in coordination with the Senior Policy Operating Group to develop a collaborative approach to explore partnerships with survivor groups in order to seek ongoing input from survivors on initiatives and policies.”
As part of this initiative, the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC), in collaboration with the White House, DHS, HHS’s Administration for Children and Families (ACF), the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, and DOJ’s Executive Office for United States Attorneys, conducted a Human Trafficking Survivor Forum on January 14th, 2014, in Washington, D.C.
According to an announcement[i] from the OVC, the forum was developed “in response to public comments received on the draft Federal Strategic Action Plan.” During the forum, survivors were invited to provide input “on a number of issues, including how Federal Government agencies can collaborate to engage survivor groups and incorporate their perspectives in federal anti-trafficking efforts.” OVC solicited statements of interest from human trafficking survivors in order to convene a group with geographic, gender, and experiential diversity. Twenty survivors were invited to participate in the one-day forum with:
- Cecelia Muñoz, Director, White House Domestic Policy Council
- James Cole, Deputy Attorney General, DOJ
- Bill Corr, Deputy Secretary, HHS
- Alejandro Mayorkas, Deputy Secretary, DHS
- Karol Virginia Mason, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Justice Programs, DOJ
- Joye E. Frost, Director, OVC, Office of Justice Programs, DOJ
The Plan further asserts that “DHS will continue to engage nongovernmental stakeholders, including survivors, in meetings twice a year. These meetings will update stakeholders on recent activities and provide a platform for participants to offer individual feedback regarding current DHS Blue Campaign efforts.”
The plan also asserts that HHS’s ACF, DHS’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations Victim Assistance Program, and DOJ’s FBI and OVC “will integrate survivor experiences and perspectives into training and technical assistance materials designed for victim assistance specialists, law enforcement agencies, and service providers.”
The DOJ’s Executive Office for United States Attorneys will also “distribute guidance to the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices’ human trafficking task forces encouraging them to seek survivor input where appropriate.” Last, the Plan states that “HHS’s ACF will explore the creation of a public platform to receive ongoing feedback on the quality of services accessed by survivors of human trafficking, including gaps in services and challenges to service delivery.”
As a survivor and advocate, I commend the inclusion of survivor voices in the Federal Strategic Action Plan. As a columnist, I will strive to provide survivor feedback and insight as this initiative continues. To begin, I’d like to include feedback from one anonymous survivor, a social scientist and survivor of family-controlled child sex trafficking, who applied but was not selected to attend the Human Trafficking Survivor Forum.
My answer to the question of how Federal Government agencies could engage survivors/survivor groups would be to offer opportunities that engage more than 20 survivors. They said they received 100 survivor applications, so the desire is there. [Although I typically shy away from publicity,] I felt compelled to apply to this forum…because [it was] such an amazing opportunity to inform and to collaborate with federal agencies. Technology is such that a series of teleconferences, Google+ Hangouts, etc. could be set up: not everyone needs to fly to D.C.
As for incorporating survivor perspectives, I would ask survivors [to reflect on their experiences and evaluate at which points] do they think the federal government could best intervene. For me, that would mean prioritizing resources for children’s safety and well-being through health care, education, and economic stability. The top two risk factors for entrance into commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) are a history of childhood sexual abuse and poverty. Yet, according to UNICEF, the United States is first amongst industrialized nations in child death from abuse and neglect and second for child poverty. Thus, the United States has a “perfect storm” for CSEC, and we will not end this atrocity without first addressing these foundational issues.
The next article will include insight and advice from survivors regarding strategies to better identify victims of human trafficking and address their aftercare needs. If you are a survivor and would like to provide feedback, please contact me at [email protected].