Unfortunately, sex trafficking is still an extraordinarily high-profit, low-risk enterprise. To eradicate these networks and stop them from recurring, we must flip this equation for traffickers by disrupting the business model while also ensuring a strong safety net for survivors.
However, a comprehensive response to this form of human trafficking must also take into account a nuanced understanding of migration, gender norms, and cultural context. We must respond to victims effectively and immediately with an eye toward individual empowerment and economic sustainability.
Key stakeholders and communities must be equipped to recognize human trafficking and be elevated to play a central role in the solutions. Law enforcement in both the U.S. and Mexico must reinforce rule of law and hold traffickers accountable.
Finally, public outreach must focus on awareness-raising activities that will identify more victims and prevent further victimization.
Illicit Massage Businesses
In our recent report, we describe how government leaders must prioritize and address this issue within their communities to effectively combat human trafficking within illicit massage businesses. In particular, there needs to be a shift in perception so that key stakeholders understand the real harm illicit massage businesses cause as well as the services that victims need to leave their trafficking situation and rebuild their lives. This requires developing community-based awareness campaigns as well as equipping law enforcement, regulatory agencies, and service providers with knowledge and skills to support survivors and target traffickers as criminal actors.
To establish an effective and non-judgmental continuum of care, we need to meet survivors where they are and begin to empower them to make choices that create and support their futures. There is a continued need for sustainable social service programs that can provide long-term services to all survivors of trafficking, regardless of circumstances. Increased federal and state funding is needed to increase specialized services for victims of both sex and labor trafficking. In addition, service providers for domestic violence victims, at-risk youth, immigrant communities, and LGBTQ populations can incorporate care for trafficking survivors into their programs.
Trafficking survivors may interact with many different service systems throughout their recovery—from law enforcement and the court system to multiple social services agencies. These systems must work together to provide coordinated services to trafficking survivors. They must also implement strong protocols to identify potential victims and to provide trauma-informed, empowering services to survivors and their families.
Global Safety Net
To eradicate trafficking across borders and strengthen services for victims, Polaris galvanizes regional collaboration among service providers, governments, and law enforcement entities to share data, strategies, and resources. Based on our expertise operating the National Human Trafficking Hotline and BeFree Textline, Polaris has discovered the potential of a hotline to function as a coordination mechanism for the anti-trafficking movement in a country by increasing victim identification; building relationships with service providers, law enforcement, and government; and pinpointing gaps in resources and response through the development of critical data collection systems.
To ensure that migrants on temporary visas are better protected from the risk of labor trafficking and labor exploitation, Polaris urges support for the following U.S. federal policy recommendations:
- Prohibit the application of recruitment fees to individuals who have obtained a temporary visa.
- Require employers to provide complete and accurate contracts directly to workers in a language the worker understands.
- Require foreign labor recruiters to register with the U.S. government and companies to use registered labor recruiters.
- Ensure that temporary visa holders can change employers without losing their visa status.
Children & Youth
All organizations and programs serving youth must be competent in understanding and identifying human trafficking. Often, child welfare agencies are in contact with young victims of human trafficking, but due to a lack of awareness, do not identify them in this way. Child welfare, juvenile justice, runaway and homeless youth, and community-based youth programs must develop sustainable training plans for staff on trauma-informed identification and engagement with trafficked youth and build formal organizational policies and protocols to guide services, referrals, and care coordination.
In addition, states should pass “Safe Harbor” laws to ensure that child victims are treated as victims, not as criminals. These laws should make exploited minors under 18 immune from prosecution from certain offenses, including prostitution, and ensure they receive services instead of a criminal conviction.
Industry leaders are increasingly recognizing the unique role they can play in preventing and disrupting this crime. Hotels must formally adopt company-wide anti-trafficking policies, train staff on what to look for and how to respond, establish a safe and secure reporting mechanism, and work with suppliers and vendors who responsibly source their products.
Government entities, law enforcement, service providers, businesses, and consumers can and should take action in order to protect workers from abuse and exploitation, and reduce trafficking in this industry. Congress should amend The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) in order to cover door-to-door sales. Law enforcement must pursue bad actors at the top of the sales network, instead of focusing on crew members violating local anti-solicitation laws. Service organizations should recognize crew members as victims of labor trafficking so they can receive support. And the publishing industry should ensure transparent business supply chains in their magazine sales.