U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking Annual Report 2022: An Analysis
On September 23, 2022, the U.S. Department of State’s U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, a board of Survivor Leaders who advise and provide recommendations to the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PITF) on how to improve federal anti-trafficking policies, released its Annual Report. The Annual Report’s intention is not only to guide PITF but to empower survivors and to increase prevention, protection, and prosecution. This 2022 report took an in-depth analysis of the Annual Report of 2021 themes, including;
- Appropriate language used in the anti-trafficking movement;
- The causes of human trafficking at its root;
- Child exploitation and online safety; and
- The demand for sex and labor trafficking.i
In conjunction, this year’s report pleads to PITF to increase the recognition and adoption of anti-human trafficking best practices to secure the rights of victims, as well as increasing labor trafficking investigations and prosecutions.ii
Historically, when discussing human trafficking, the language and words used surrounding the topic have been less than proper and can have a lasting impact on survivors. Individuals who have not experienced the crime of human trafficking have failed to use culturally appropriate and trauma-informed language. There are words that have been used to describe the trafficking a survivor has endured that not only minimize their experience but stigmatize them causing further harm and re-traumatization. There are many challenges for survivors to come forward about their exploitation and abuse; stigmatization only makes this more difficult, perpetuating stereotypes that may later affect the resources available or the economic stability of the survivor. The U.S. Advisory Council suggests that anti-human trafficking language, most importantly by governing agencies and service providers, should be conscious and respectful of survivors and their experiences.iii
Outdated and inappropriate language when referencing human trafficking by the Advisory Council includes; child prostitute/prostitution, child pornography, John, prostitute/prostitution, rescue, sex slave, or sex work/worker.iv These terms neglect that children are not responsible for the abuse they endure, the experience of the survivor, perpetrators are not civilized, and that individuals in the commercial sex industry are not receiving work-related benefits.
Updated language used in the anti-trafficking movement consist of; client, lived-experience expert or survivor leader, pimp, consulting, survivor-informed, survivor-led, storytelling, and trauma-informed.v By implementing these words and phrases in public awareness campaigns and materials, funding announcements, investigations, trainings, and elsewhere, it acknowledges that sex buyers are criminals, survivors are experts and necessary to drive the anti-trafficking conversations, and survivors are human beings that are not defined by trafficking.
In 2021, the U.S. Advisory Council identified the root causes of human trafficking and how the causes have allowed and empowered trafficking. The 2021 report recognizes the causes of trafficking as;
- An inequitable society, concealing impoverished communities from equal access to social capital, education, and economic opportunity because of generational trauma.vi
- Familial or communal trauma and environmental, social, and political impact that creates negative cultural norms amongst a group of people from generations of neglect and mistreatment, later increasing trafficking in at-risk populations.vii
- Inequities brought on because of systemic barriers in government, social services, or non-governmental programs are worsened, specifically affecting underserved and vulnerable populations, and retraumatize and exploit victims.viii
It is essential to address the root causes of human trafficking because without it, investigations only reflect on the actual act of trafficking, but do not acknowledge the vulnerabilities of the survivor and how they fell victim to trafficking in the first place. This, like outdated language, dehumanizes a survivor and devalues their experience.
In the US Advisory Council on Human Trafficking Annual Report of 2022, the Council performed an in-depth analysis of these root causes and how traffickers do not target people, but vulnerabilities within communities. Underserved and marginalized communities are trafficked at a disproportionate rate and have been targeted because of these systemic barriers, cultural norms, and complex traumas.
Systemic barriers, like racism, poverty, immigration status, and mass incarceration, interfere with a community’s ability to flourish socially and economically. The Council argues that by breaking down systemic barriers, human trafficking becomes less prevalent through preventative action, equitable and accessible resources can be provided to survivors, and survivors not only heal but can fully reintegrate into society.ix
In conjunction, cultural norms implemented by a community that has been affected by long term mistreatment and distrust, forming generational trauma, can increase vulnerabilities targeted by human traffickers. People in underserved groups like the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, girls and women, specifically black women, people with substance use disorders, and people with disabilities all are high-risk for human trafficking.x Without addressing how these groups are being affected by complex trauma, the cycle of generational trauma continues.
Child Exploitation and Online Safety
Much of the pornography that can be accessed online is between consenting adults. Children and teens cannot consent to sex or taking and distributing explicit images or videos of themselves. Furthermore, all explicit material depicting a child is evidence of sexual abuse committed against the minor. Because of this, the term “child pornography” is outdated. Using language like “child pornography” decriminalizes the abuse of minors. More appropriately, CSAM is an acronym for child sexual abuse material. CSAM refers to pictures and videos that show the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and teens.
There has been continued growth of CSAM with 1.1 million reports in 2014 to 29.3 million in 2020, covering 84 million CSAM images and videos.xi Similarly, In the study, Towards a Global Indicator on Unidentified Victims in Child Sexual Exploitation Material, Interpol and ECPAT report that about 56% of cases exhibited prepubescent children; more than 25% were pubescent children; around 4% of the cases depict infants and toddlers; that the younger the victim, the more severe the abuse experienced became; and 84.2% of CSAM portrayed severe abuse.xii
The U.S. Advisory Council explains that if no preventative, protective, or prosecutorial action is taken to stop child exploitation and the dangers of the internet, it will continue without effective outreach to children and guardians, there will be a lack in the enforcement of laws, perpetrators will not be brought to justice, and there will not be collaboration between agencies and experts.xiii This will also result in ineffective use of technology, making it harder to identify child sex traffickers and the online exploitation of children.xiv When cases of child sex trafficking are identified online because of proper prevention measures, community members are more likely to report the CSAM they found online according to the Advisory Council.xv Children are not responsible for the abuse they experience, and it is the job to protect the youth on and offline.
In this section of The U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking Annual Report of 2022, the Council states that traffickers benefit and, “… profit from recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring, or receiving vulnerable and marginalized populations by means of force, fraud, or coercion to perform commercial sex acts or provide labor or services without compensation.”xvi As a way of reducing and ultimately eradicating sex and labor trafficking, government agencies, services providers, and non-governmental programs must eliminate the benefits and profits traffickers gain from trafficking by interrupting the demand.
One way of reducing the demand for trafficking the Advisory Council addresses is the notion that commercial sex work should be legalized. The Council reflects on this, arguing that this neglects that human beings cannot be bought and again, generational trauma is continued. Another way of reducing trafficking, labor trafficking in this case, is through the global supply chain. It is essential to hold companies accountable for fair wages and a safe working environment through their supply chains.xvii In order to reduce human trafficking, the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking suggests that the demand must be targeted by undergoing aggressive investigation and prosecution of all those participating in or profiting from human trafficking, prioritizing grant-making to trauma-informed victim service providers, establishing and disseminating a prevention education program, and emphasize the development of tools, online applications, and resources to equip the general public to make informed decisions on the products they purchase.xviii
The Annual Report of 2022 makes effective and sustainable suggestions to secure the rights of victims of human trafficking, empower survivors, and to increase prevention, protection, and prosecution. By addressing appropriate language used in the anti-trafficking movement, the causes of human trafficking at its root, child exploitation and online safety, and the demand for sex and labor trafficking, survivors may continue to not only persevere, but thrive as well. The U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking continues to be a notable example of government collaboration with Survivor Leaders and how when Survivor Leaders with the necessary expertise to combat trafficking have their voices amplified, a more just and inclusive world can begin to develop.
Sarah Nantel, TWG Policy Associate & Strategy Consultant
Bracket Foundation, UNICRI Center for AI and Robotics, and Yalda Aoukar. Gaming and the Metaverse: The Alarming Rise of Online Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children Within the New Digital Frontier. Pg. 4. 2022.
ECPAT and Interpol. Towards a Global Indicator on Unidentified Victims in Child Sexual Exploitation Material. Pg. 5. 2018.
United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking Annual Report 2022. US Department of State Office to Monitor and Comba Trafficking in Persons. September 23, 2022.