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The United States is the global leader in the fight against human trafficking, also known as “modern slavery”; however, this insidious crime that involves the exploitation of both adults and children, for labor and sex, still persists within the Land of the Free. 

In 2020, President Trump released the first-ever National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking in an effort to outline the U.S. government’s commitment to prioritize the prevention of human trafficking, protection and support to victims, and prosecution of traffickers to the furthest extent of the law. 

The Action Plan is a three-year approach intended to enhance and strengthen existing programs and services in order to continue the fight to end human trafficking because as President Trump stated, “I would say that this issue is important (sic) because of the level of evil that you would never believe is even possible in a modern age.”  

The Four Pillars for Progress 

The National Action Plan highlights a survivor-informed approach and calls on all areas of government to carry out its principles and priority actions by focusing on four key areas, or “pillars”: (1) prevention, (2) protection, (3) prosecution, and (4) cross-cutting approaches and institutional effectiveness.  

  1. Prevention Pillar:
  • Creating a prevention education program for the 163 U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) schools to raise awareness of human trafficking.  More than 70,000 students are enrolled in DOD schools from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. 
  • Strengthening efforts to identify, prevent, and address human trafficking in product supply chains and ventures. DHS opened the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) led Center for Countering Human Trafficking (CCHT) in October 2020. A component of the CCHT’s mission is to combat trade in goods produced with forced labor overseas. 
  • Examining initiatives intended to reduce demand and their effectiveness. The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act of 2018 recognized the need for efforts to examine the role of demand reduction. 
  • Creating accountability for forced labor and ensuring goods produced with forced labor are not imported into the United States. For example, as part of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, USTR negotiated ground-breaking commitments for each Party to take measures in prohibiting the importation of goods produced in whole or in part with forced or compulsory labor and will continue to engage our counterparts in ensuring this provision is effectively implemented. 
  • Strengthening efforts to address demand reduction in order to have more informed, evidence-based policymaking. 
  • Identifying enhancements to existing procedures through which migrant workers may leave potentially exploitative situations to prevent human trafficking. 
  1. Protection Pillar:
  • Developing policies that facilitate safe and secure emergency, short-term, transitional, and long-term housing options, and address barriers that human trafficking victims, particularly those with a criminal record directly resulting from their victimization, may face in accessing public housing. 
  • Increasing victim access to training programs and employment. 
  • Continuing to train federal law enforcement and service provider agencies on identifying human trafficking and practices regarding victim interviews.
  • Increasing access to public awareness materials focused on victim identification and displaying those materials in priority locations within 1 year. 
  • Safeguarding victims of human trafficking from being inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. 
  • Seeking financial remedies for victims who often find themselves in need of medical and mental health care, adequate and safe housing, job training, and resources to care for family members, among other needs. 
  • Connecting victims to social services to increase short and long-term stability. 
  • Applying an equitable victim-centered and trauma-informed approach to engaging with victims. 
  1. Prosecution Pillar:
  • Bringing together investigative and prosecutorial stakeholders and survivors and survivor organizations to describe the child sex trafficking threat landscape, developing strategies for strengthening investigations and prosecutions, and identifying subject matter experts available to provide training and outreach. 
  • Developing improved technology for human trafficking interdiction and identify technical barriers impeding investigations.  
  • Enhancing efforts and abilities to locate missing children, including youth who have run away from foster care and are highly vulnerable to human trafficking. 
  • Establishing federally-funded human trafficking task forces that are sustainable and state, tribal, territorial, or locally-led. 
  • Proposing legislation to facilitate revocation of passports and other administrative actions against individuals convicted of certain travel-related human trafficking and child sexual exploitation crimes 
  • Deploying a range of federal enforcement tools including civil forfeiture actions, civil injunctions, False Claims Act litigation, federal contracting suspension and debarment, financial tools including sanctions and anti-corruption measures, travel restrictions, export control, and enforcement of reporting requirements in conjunction with or as an alternative to criminal prosecution of human trafficking crimes, in order to disrupt human trafficking networks and enhance accountability. 
  1. Cross-cutting Approaches and Institutional Effectiveness Pillar:
  • Strengthening federal anti-trafficking efforts by incorporating survivor input. Survivor voices are a vital part of establishing effective and comprehensive anti-trafficking strategies that advance prosecution, protection, and prevention efforts. 
  • Providing information to the private sector on the threat of human trafficking to better identify human trafficking facilitators and victims. For example, Treasury, in collaboration with law enforcement, will provide outreach to financial sector partners on illicit finance associated with human trafficking. 
  • Improving and consolidating federal agencies’ human trafficking tip line operations. 
  • Conducting a strategic analysis to ensure the U.S. is using the most current information and methodology to combat human trafficking. Keeping pace with current illicit practices (who is involved, what illicit activity are they engaged in, and what are the associated financial flows) is critical. 
  • Identifying research gaps to better serve vulnerable populations and underserved victims. Such research would be beneficial for enhancing training and outreach, developing policies, programs, and partnerships, and allocating resources. 
  • Conducting a comprehensive assessment of how personnel and resources are allocated in federal efforts to combat human trafficking. 
  • Streamlining departments’ and agencies’ access to relevant, actionable data and intelligence on human trafficking crimes. 

Federal law enforcement agencies with support of the Intelligence Community are scheduled to develop an intelligence assessment of human trafficking within the United States within 120 days of the publication of the Action Plan (May 2022). 

The National Action Plan notes that “according to a 2019 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) study based on data derived from its investigations in the United States over a three-year period (2015-2017), 80 percent of human trafficking cases that were investigated involved victims of sex trafficking, 19 percent were victims of labor trafficking, and one percent involved both sex and labor trafficking.”  

To this day, traffickers continue to deny people their fundamental right to freedom in the United States. 

President Trump has called upon “All Americans to take action against Human Trafficking as an intolerable blight on any society that values freedom, human dignity, individual rights, and the rule of law”. 

By Bill Woolf
Bill Woolf, Principal & Founder