Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Time for a new approach to human trafficking

Melissa Ditmore and Andrea Ritchie of the Urban Justice Center's Sex Workers Project have a great new post up at RH Reality Check. The post is based on the Project's new report: "Kicking Down the Door: The Use of Raids to Fight To Fight Trafficking in Persons":
We found that while there have been some successes, raids are generally an ineffective anti-trafficking tool, and in many cases are harmful to people who have been trafficked. Trafficked women reported that they were repeatedly arrested, in some cases up to ten times, in police raids on brothels and other sex work venues, without ever being identified as trafficked. ...

The Obama administration has the opportunity to reassess this failed federal approach to human trafficking. The recent passage of federal anti-trafficking legislation championed by Vice President Joe Biden offers a fresh start - and a chance to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

A good first step would be to move away from high-profile, resource-intensive and largely ineffective raids and to address the economic and social circumstances that increase vulnerability to trafficking....Expansion and targeted enforcement of labor laws in [sectors where trafficking flourishes] would not only go a long way toward locating, identifying and assisting trafficked persons, it would also protect the rights of all workers.

For the long term, strategies led by individuals and communities with knowledge of and access to trafficked people are far more likely than raids to meet with success....

Trafficking victims by definition have sought opportunity in the United States only to find themselves in coercive and abusive situations. We owe it to them to find better ways to locate, identify and assist them, and to develop anti-trafficking initiatives that prioritize their needs, choices, and self-determination as human beings. A good way to start would be to extend a helping hand that is not also holding a gun.

As I've noted in this blog before, the Sex Workers Project is doing some truly outstanding advocacy.

Another step the Obama administration could take would be to re-examine the equation of prostitution with trafficking under various provisions of federal law, including in restrictions on international aid. Some of these policies make providing life-saving services to sex workers more difficult, and distract from the serious problem of human trafficking.

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