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Success Against Slavery and Strategies for the Future

Ambassador Mark P. Lagon, Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Remarks at the Promising Practices in International Programming Conference
Washington, DC
October 28, 2008

It is a delight to be here today on the eighth anniversary of the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, signed on this very day, 8 years ago. This legislation created the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and mandated the Trafficking in Persons annual report—a report which would probably be an impossible feat without the information NGOs contribute. We owe the TVPA achievement to Senator Brownback, the late Senator Paul Wellstone, Congressman Chris Smith, and former Congressman Sam Gejdenson. I saw their work when I was a bit player in the Senate-House conference to finalize the Act. In honor of Senator Wellstone’s memory, I named my office’s annual award for the most energetic and effective anti-slavery U.S. Ambassador him. Last year, the Wellstone Award went to U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger. In subsequent reauthorizations, they’ve been joined by heroes such as Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Congresswoman Thelma Drake and by the late, esteemed Congressman Tom Lantos, whose fiercely capable and dedicated chief of staff, David Abromowitz, is here today. Thank you, David, for everything you have accomplished on the 2008 TVPRA under Congressman Lantos’ wise guidance.

Today, I’m so happy to be joined in saluting the accomplishments of anti-slavery NGOs by colleagues from the State Department, including Mark Mittelhauser, as well as other U.S. Government departments and agencies including Deputy Under Secretary for International Affairs, Charlie Ponticelli, from the Department of Labor; Cindy Dyer, Director of the Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice; Kathy Blakeslee, Director of USAID’s Women in Development program and Terri Hasdorff, Director of USAID’s Center for Faith Based and Community Initiatives. I know I can speak for my colleagues in expressing my gratitude, to the esteemed panelists and audience for implementing this legislation, so magnificently—making sure it bears the most precious fruit in the form of lives saved and restored.

Many in this room have implemented ground-breaking programs and have transformed lives through their dedication and proximity to the people who most need assistance. They are based in communities, sometimes based in ethnic, immigrant, and diaspora groups. We don’t give funds to grantees solely because they have a good heart, but because they add value tangibly. Many faith-based and community-based groups, are not only coming from communities, but importantly building community capacity. Other groups, often secular, are empowering communities to hold exploiters to account, helping victims become survivors reintegrated into their communities, and preventing trafficking through vigilance, public awareness, and economic-opportunity-creation. They have programs that really affect change—demanding justice for the dehumanized, supporting the survivors of slavery, and advancing the aim of abolition.

You are leaders in the modern day abolitionist movement whose methodology is rooted in real life experience of what works. You know well the sobering reality of modern day slavery. Every day, all over the world, people are coerced into bonded labor, bought and sold in prostitution, exploited in involuntary domestic servitude, enslaved in agricultural work and in factories, and captured to serve unlawfully as child soldiers.

William Wilberforce’s story is a poignant reminder of the essential role that people of faith have played in combating social ills and injustice throughout history—slavery foremost among them. That’s why Congressman Tom Lantos named the latest reauthorization bill for Wilberforce. A remarkable and diverse movement has coalesced to end modern day slavery, and the faith-based community, as is evidenced by the leadership of the organizations represented here today, is central to that fight.

People of faith have, historically, served as powerful agents of change. The faith-based community moves beyond advocacy and policy—critical components—and on to protective care, support, and ultimately healing and restoration. We have seen faith communities fill a desperate need when it comes to victim identification. They are often the first line of defense, encountering victims long before traditional law enforcement or even social service providers.

While the nature and scope of trafficking varies country to country, there are certain commonalities from India to Indiana—foremost among them is that victims typically don’t identify themselves. They are afraid, afraid of being considered criminals or illegal aliens. To help them, we must find them first.

We have heard testimonials from faith communities, one not far from here in Montgomery County, Maryland, where congregants in a local church recognized that something was just not right with one of their fellow parishioners. They came to find that this woman was being held captive in the home of her employer, with no compensation, and with little freedom of movement aside from a once weekly outing to worship. Their intervention resulted in her freedom. Timely victim identification is imperative and the faith-based community is a key part of the equation.

In addition to implementing domestic programs, faith-based and community groups implement international prevention and victim assistance programs that address the needs arising from the two forms of trafficking: sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The two panels this afternoon will focus on these two forms, featuring both faith-based and community-based organizations. The sex trafficking panel, focusing on exemplary prevention and protection programs, is chaired by Senior Director for Global Projects Laura Lederer, an innovative thinker in this field since its inception. Senior Coordinator for Public Outreach Eleanor Kennelly Gaetan will chair the panel on labor trafficking. In several years of selfless service, driven by optimistic faith, Eleanor’s been a crucial hub in the anti-slavery movement. Her panel will emphasize the labor- and investigation- intensive work that is required to free people who are enslaved and to upset the systemic problems that allow slavery to exist. All panelists will share some of what they, and we, have deemed the most promising practices in prevention, victim rescue and survivor protection.

We have promising practices and lessons to share because, one, our office is a mature 8 years old; and, two, it is a catalyst in the global movement—perhaps even outstripping the hopes of legislators 8 years ago—and so we share promising practices—YOUR promising PRACTICES—with the world.

At the heart of U.S. government efforts to end human trafficking is a commitment to human dignity—a desire not only to rescue, but restore. As such, it is a great blessing to be allowed the opportunity to benefit the lives of the most degraded, most exploited, most dehumanized people in the world. It is the supreme privilege of my office to able to support partners who do the work. Many of you are engaged in critical work which complements the mission of the TIP office at State, and advances our common movement.

Over the last 8 years, we have made great strides in the area of trafficking prevention. By G/TIP’s assessment, 98 countries and 2 territories (Hong Kong and Macau)—a majority of the world’s countries—criminalize all forms of trafficking through either a single law or multiple criminal statutes. We are pleased to see the number of countries that have enacted or improved their legislation is high, but we have much more to do. Lack of government commitment, weak laws to hold exploiters to fullest account, failure to recognize the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and migrants, and officials’ corruption must be addressed as urgent matters of prevention. Most of the countries that have criminalized labor trafficking are not investigating and prosecuting these cases successfully. Only 10% of the prosecutions reported in the 2008 Report were forced labor cases.

We are especially proud of the work that International Justice Mission is doing in India to free bonded laborers and to help them push cases through the legal system. IJM is also one of the leaders in developing aftercare and rehabilitation for forced labor victims. Their assistance includes victim relief utilizing government programs and holding those responsible accountable.

The pernicious, malicious demand for commercial sex and, perhaps more often ignorant, but deeply damaging nonetheless, the demand for goods made by forced labor or child labor in violation of international standards must also be addressed. Our office is also dedicated to combating the issue of child sex tourism (CST) where individuals, often from more developed countries, travel to less developed countries to engage in commercial sex with minors. With funding from our office, World Vision, a faith-based international NGO who you will hear from today, completed a remarkable public awareness campaign—addressing the demand for child sex tourism in stark terms. Some of their materials can be see on posters here.

One of the greatest accomplishments of recent years is the fact that victim protection services have risen to a higher standard of excellence. My travels have allowed me to witness that hundreds of organizations are providing services to rescued victims of TIP. These programs take many shapes: an apartment, a hotel room, a wing in a hospital, a separate room within a shelter for people who need immediate housing, a small foster home-like setting for children, shelters dedicated to TIP victims from 4 to 200 people.

In an effort to advance the discussion of quality aftercare by sharing the promising practices we’ve discovered as a mature 8 year old catalyst, we convened a group of experts who represented 10 organizations. The outcome was a report, “Core Aftercare Services,” for victims of human trafficking, excerpts of which are available to you today. The core services list is based on the principle of victim-centered intervention because our priority is individual survivors. We want them to experience life to the fullest.

Organizations like World Hope International and Apne Aap Women Worldwide, which means self-help in Hindi, provide excellent protection for victims and begin the hard work of reintegration that begins the moment women and girls are rescued. They help empower the dehumanized.

Our focus is best practices for all aspects of combating TIP: prosecution, prevention and protection. There are many faith-based and community organizations doing so much. We have the opportunity to highlight only a few today.

I also want to give enormous credit to a civil servant in our office who since she arrived in early 2006, 18 months before my own arrival, has been strengthening our partnerships with the kinds of community-based and faith-based actors featured in today’s forum. Dr. Jane Sigmon, Senior Coordinators for Programs, cares deeply about helping victims, replacing their trauma with lasting prosperity. Jane is not here today because she’s in Cambodia, true to form, working with some of our partner NGOs. Jane cares deeply about practical training for law enforcement to help the helpless and catch and punish the enslavers. With Jane’s help, we’ve made sure we devote taxpayer resources to the programs which are accountable and which work. She, our Senior Coordinator for Public Outreach Dr. Eleanor Gaetan, and I have been deeply committed to making our office a premiere global catalyst for fighting trafficking, sharing promising practices with the world. So is our new Deputy Director, Nan Kennelly, who comes to us having been honored in the State Department for her extraordinary role in advancing the rights and needs of women and migrants in the Population, Refugee, and Migration bureau.

There are many heroes in this room—people who have devoted their lives to healing wounds and freeing people in bondage. The Book of Isaiah, says, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners.” Many of the world’s major faiths embrace the teachings embodied in that passage—those of justice in the face of injustice, innate value in the face of degradation, protection for the vulnerable in the face of exploitation. These are the principles which guide our work and I look forward to hearing more about its implementation in the rest of the program today.

First, we’re going to watch a trailer to Call and Response, a one-of-a-kind music documentary, or “rockumentary” if you will. It was produced and directed by Justin Dillon, who will speak at the reception that follows the panel discussion. It highlights the repulsive nature of trafficking and calls each of us who has ears to hear, and eyes to see, to get up and respond.

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