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Secretary of State John Kerry, right, listens to an interpreter as Ameena Saeed Hasan of Iraq, left, speaks after being recognized as a “2015 Trafficking in Persons Report heroî whose efforts have made an impact on the global fight against modern slavery, during a news conference where Kerry releases the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report at the State Department, Monday in Washington. The report assesses the efforts of 188 countries and territories, including the United States to combat modern slavery. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Opinion: How Congress can help stop human trafficking

SHARE Opinion: How Congress can help stop human trafficking
SHARE Opinion: How Congress can help stop human trafficking

Edmund Burke once said that slavery is “a weed that grows on every soil.” More than 200 years later, the truth of his words reverberates. Indeed, as we mark the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment this year, more people — an estimated 21 million — are enslaved around the world than at any other point in history.

OPINION

Contrary to popular opinion, the scourge of modern slavery — also called human trafficking — isn’t confined to less developed regions; it grows on the soil of every country. The United States is both a source and destination of victims, and the American economy, the world’s largest, with its consumer demand for cheap goods, fuels industries rife with slave labor.

Over the last few years, as public awareness and advocacy have grown, so too has the bipartisan anti-trafficking consensus in Congress. The conviction to rid the world of this atrocity is growing. But good intentions are simply not enough.

Human trafficking is big business. Generating $150 billion in annual profits, it’s the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. Although the United States leads the world in funding global anti-trafficking programs, it spends more in a single month to combat drug trafficking than it has spent fighting trafficking of human beings over the last 15 years.

Insufficient resources is one of the reasons that — despite the increase in awareness, activism, and new laws — this malignancy continues to grow.

The Department of Justice currently funds 13 Human Trafficking Task Forces around the country that take a multi-disciplinary approach that links partners at the local, state, tribal, and federal levels. As a result, 85,685 law enforcement officers and other personnel have been trained to identify incidents of human trafficking, and this effort has led to the identification of 3,336 victims.

In Chicago, the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force, has charged 112 defendants since 2010, leading to 82 convictions, and charged an additional 19 defendants at the federal level. The Task Force, which is co-led by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois and the Salvation Army STOP IT Program, has trained 9,100 people and STOP IT has helped more than 150 survivors. This has not only helped victims out of trafficking and steered them to the services they need to rebuild their lives, but it means more traffickers and their enablers are put out of business and in jail where they belong.

Congress is considering a bill that would increase funding for innovative Justice Department anti-trafficking programs that have created a platform for all levels of government and law enforcement to share information, develop best practices, and coordinate strategies that have proven to be effective. Increased support for these programs would help level the playing field in the fight against human trafficking.

As we get better at identifying trafficking incidents and the exploiters who profit from this crime, we must ensure that the capacity to prosecute them keeps pace. While prosecutions alone won’t end human trafficking, increasing funding for these programs is an essential step in bringing more of these criminals to justice.

If Congress is serious about ending human trafficking, it has to put serious money into it the effort. Increased funding for anti-human trafficking programs is an investment in safer and stronger communities for everyone.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez worked to create the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force. Elisa Massimino is president and CEO of Human Rights First and will be speaking at the Cook County Human Trafficking Task Force Conference on Friday.

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