Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Human Trafficking Still Plagues District

COURTESY CLARE MURPHY Students Stopping the Trafficking of People rallies to raise awareness about human trafficking, of which 62 cases were reported in the District in 2014.
Students Stopping the Trafficking of People rallies to raise awareness about human trafficking, of which 62 cases were reported in the District in 2014.

The District of Columbia experienced 62 reported cases of human trafficking in 2014, a similar number to that of previous years, while there was a 26 percent national increase in calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, according to an annual report published by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and national advocacy organization Polaris.

Of the 62 tips reported to the NHRTC hotline in the District, there were 36 cases of sex trafficking and 21 cases of labor trafficking, a decline from 2013, which saw 78 cases. Sixty-seven cases were reported in 2012.

According to Polaris Media Relations Officer Brandon Bouchard, it is unlikely that the prevalence of human trafficking has changed as the statistics simply reflect increased reports. However, he admitted that little is known about human trafficking in the United States.

“It’s challenging to say whether or not there is an increase in human trafficking because there hasn’t been a prevalent study that’s been conducted for the United States or for D.C. specifically,” Bouchard said. “But without a prevalent study like that, we don’t have that baseline number for actual human trafficking victims to compare to. That’s one area in which we definitely want to see some action.”

A possible reason for the national increase in reported cases of human trafficking is increased awareness of the issue. Austin Naughton, a communications team volunteer at D.C. Stop Modern Slavery, said that this awareness extends beyond the general public to law enforcement.

“I think now that there is greater sensitivity among law enforcement [as] they try and look below the surface about what’s really going on with the person,” Naughton said. “There are people who are trained to look for [whether this might] be an incident of trafficking and if so, how do they then connect that person … with the different service providers that can support them.”

Despite this increased awareness, Washington, D.C., remains a hub of human trafficking activity according to activists, primarily due to its location on the coast and popularity as a tourist destination.

“There is a corridor, it goes from one big city to another, up and down Interstate 95,” Naughton said. “So cities that are like hubs, let’s say New York or D.C. or Atlanta, these are places where there is a lot of tourism or conventions. There are people who are coming here who have free time and money to spend.”

Deborah Sigmund, founder of Innocents at Risk, another D.C. organization that fights human trafficking, explained how widespread trafficking is in the District.

“Unfortunately we have people in Congress, doctors, lawyers, all walks of life. There is no field that is not participating in buying children,” Sigmund said. “You can call up and order a child the same way you can call up and order a pizza.”

This year, Washington, D.C., received a D grade from the Protected Innocence Challenge, a comprehensive study of existing state laws that evaluates each state and gives it a grade. This grade is based on 41 key legislative components that must be addressed in a state’s laws in order to effectively respond to the crime of domestic minor sex trafficking.

The report card pointed out several flaws, including that D.C. has not statutorily mandated the reporting of mission or rescued children. Training on human trafficking and minor domestic sex trafficking is neither mandated nor authorized by law.

“Sex trafficking of a minor under 18 without regard to force, fraud, or coercion is a crime. Nonetheless, juveniles are subject to arrest for prostitution in the District of Columbia in conflict with their status as sex trafficking victims. Critical investigative tools to combat the growing use of the Internet to commit sex trafficking are not provided by law,” the report reads.

However, there is some movement toward improvement. On Dec. 2, the D.C. Council passed a law that increased law enforcement training and provided safe harbor to child victims of sex trafficking, preventing the prosecution of underage persons who engage in sex acts in exchange for money.

In addition, Naughton explained that D.C. Stop Modern Slavery has introduced a bill to the D.C. Council, attempting to decrease demand for prostitution by raising the consequences for people caught trying to purchase sex services.

“Historically, the people that get busted tend to be the prostitutes and not so much the person buying the services. So there are efforts being made to raise the stakes higher so that people will feel deterred from seeking sex,” Naughton said. “It’s taking away the consequences for people that are caught selling sex services as a way to try and put pressure on the networks that are behind the trafficking, as a way to try and reduce the incentives that go along with trafficking.”

Bouchard echoed Naughton, noting that advocating for legislative reform is a key method to working towards ending human trafficking.

“We really want people to reach out to their lawmakers, the key stakeholders in whatever community they are from, and encourage them to focus on human trafficking … [and] focus on passing laws and working on initiatives that [combat] all forms of human trafficking,” Bouchard said.

Despite the recent legislative advancements, Bouchard indicated that efforts to campaign against human trafficking are limited by financing.

“We see across the country that law makers are taking very important steps to criminalize human trafficking, [to] provide additional training [and] create additional resources, but every bill doesn’t necessarily come with additional funding,” Bouchard said.

According to Bouchard, part of the reason the campaign lacks support is because the issue of human trafficking extends far beyond the crime itself and the existing model allows traffickers to reap high rewards at low risk.

“We don’t have enough resources to investigate or prosecute [human trafficking],” Bouchard said. “We’re not getting to the root causes that enable victims of human trafficking to be victimized like poverty, unemployment, runaway and homeless youth issues.”

Students Stopping the Trafficking of People, a Georgetown student organization, focuses on raising awareness among students. SSTOP President Clare Murphy (SFS ’15) noted the current system lacks adequate support for victims.

“There is a lack of resources, specifically a lack of shelters and a lack of beds,” Murphy said. “Organizations have trouble going out to find and rescue more victims because they don’t actually have the capacity to house them.”

Murphy added that Georgetown students can bring more attention to this issue on campus.

“Especially at Georgetown, we have students here who are going to be going into the top levels of government and business and that’s really where we need to put the pressure on to address this issue,” she said. “Raising up future leaders who are aware of this issue is the focus of our group: just educating students on trafficking and modern day slavery, making them aware that this problem still exists, that there [are] still 27 million people in slavery and even in our own backyard of D.C., this is a huge issue.”

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