With the passage of the 13th amendment in 1865 slavery was officially outlawed. But we have more slaves today than at the height of the 19th century slave trade! The government needs to step up and elevate the issue through words and action.
The President can convene a national summit on human trafficking calling attention to trafficking as a serious national issue, and discussing ways that churches, businesses and concerned individuals can work together to combat modern slavery. Those who escape from trafficking need skilled counseling and emotional support as well as practical assistance with housing and employment. The government can partner with nonprofit organizations, including Christian ministries that specialize in these areas.
The government can increase training, prosecution and protection initiatives. School personnel, police, judges, prosecutors, immigration agents and others who serve the public should be trained to identify signs of trafficking and to report suspicious incidents to the proper authorities. Such training can also be extended to businesses, particularly in the hospitality industry, and to volunteers from churches and community groups.
Our laws need to be better enforced. Prosecutors often do not prioritize trafficking crimes, because the cases are challenging. This makes trafficking a low risk, high reward enterprise. Vigorous prosecution can make it a high risk, low reward crime. Public pressure is needed to keep law enforcement focused on investigating and prosecuting human traffickers. And as we fight traffickers, we must protect those they abuse. Persons who cooperate with police and prosecutors are vulnerable to retaliation. They need to know that they and their families will be safe.
The government can play a unique role in fair trade issues. Most consumers would prefer to buy products that are not made by slaves. Building on the success of the USDA Organic and Energy Star labels, the government can establish and monitor certification standards that will create a level playing field for all businesses, and allow consumers to shop with confidence.
The government can also strengthen and promote the national hotline (1-888-373-7888) that anyone can call to submit tips or get information. Inquirers can also text BeFree (233733) to get in touch with someone who can help.
Much good can be done if the government will make a strong stand on human trafficking — in legislation, public awareness, law enforcement and partnerships. The President and Congress need encouragement to prioritize this issue. Put on the pressure.
This article originally appeared in the NAE Insight.