Today we’re focusing on a specific concern that has garnered the attention of the entire anti-trafficking community: human trafficking around major sporting events and lessons that can be learned especially in the hospitality and transportation sectors.
But before we dig down into that issue, it is important to remind ourselves that trafficking in persons does not just occur in isolated places, or specific times, nor does it victimize a narrow set of individuals. Trafficking in persons is all of the conduct involved in reducing someone to or holding them in a state of compelled service, whether for labor or commercial sex. Nothing short of modern-day slavery.
Affecting every country in the world, estimated to victimize approximately 27 million men, women, and children, it has no place in the 21st century. And every single victim deserves our focus and our attention.
As Mr. Reichert reminded us, these are not statistics, these are people, worthy of our compassion, deserving of our attention as people, with hopes, dreams, and needs. And increasingly survivors, with things to teach us if we only would listen. Despite the scope of this crime, around the world roughly only 40,000 victims of trafficking are being identified each year. So when we suspect that there might be a heightened risk of trafficking—whether relating to a particular industry, a particular migration route, or a major event—we necessarily need to ramp up our efforts to confront this crime, to keep doing what works. And we need to develop fresh ideas for identifying victims, investigating trafficking cases, and enforcing trafficking laws, in keeping with Pope Francis’s exhortation to not look the other way when we see our brother or sister who is enslaved.
In recent years, we’ve worked with governments and NGOs around the world to address these concerns and if there’s an overarching lesson that we’ve taken away from these cases, it’s that efforts to respond to modern slavery need to be sustainable and comprehensive, targeting all forms of trafficking.
In many cases, major sporting events not only pose a challenge around sex trafficking, they also require massive construction projects, creating a demand for cost-effective labor and materials. In regions with sizable migrant populations, much of this labor force will cross a border at least once to reach the job site. Once the event takes place, the locations become major destinations for travel and tourism, including in the so-called sex industry. At every step of the process, [we see] the vulnerabilities, with which we are all familiar, the vulnerabilities to human trafficking.
And so addressing those risks for these events means putting safeguards in place every step of the way. What protections exist for these laborers and around the event? What methods are being used to screen those who may be victims of trafficking, including through debt bondage that resulted from paying hefty recruitment fees in their own home countries? How are law enforcement personnel and partners in the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry being trained to identify particular trafficking situations—and not just child sex trafficking, but that of adults, of men as well as women?
These are questions governments should be grappling with every day, and especially when a major gathering is on the horizon. And they are some of the things we’re watching for as we approach additional major events – whether the Winter Olympics in Russia, or the World Cup in Brazil or the World Cup in Qatar in 2022. We will continue raising this issue with governments and gathering data to include in our annual Trafficking in Persons Report.
And my prepared testimony addresses these situations in greater detail, and I would ask that it be included in the record in its entirety.
As we look ahead, the issue of trafficking at sporting events underscores one of the biggest challenges we face in the struggle against modern slavery generally: the relative lack of public data and research on this often hidden issue. At this point, when it comes to major sporting events—including those here in the United States—much of the information we have is anecdotal. Crime reporting statistics are painting an incomplete picture, and the handful of reports that have emerged on this topic at times present contradictory findings.
So we need to keep gathering data and information about this aspect of the crime. Where is it taking place? Who is it – the criminals that are driving this enterprise? And what is the most effective way to prevent it?
Because while our top priority must always be getting victims out of harm’s way and bringing criminals to justice, the more we know about the crime, the better we’ll be able to stop it from happening in the first place.
And we’re well equipped to respond to this specific concern thanks to the partners that have rallied around this issue: in the transportation industry like Airline Ambassadors and Delta Airlines; in hospitality like Carlson and Hilton; across government, whether the Department of Transportation or state governments from Indiana to Arizona to Texas to New Jersey. Partnerships like the 11 orders of Catholic women who worked with Indianapolis hotels via the Coalition for Corporate Responsibility for Indiana and Michigan and the continued work that those women have done since 2012.
The work of all our partners can help to make major sporting events safe for all people. But what’s perhaps more important, is that every person they reach becomes another partner in this effort. The knowledge they spread doesn’t expire when the clock ticks down to zero. Once people understand modern slavery—how it touches them, their lives and communities, how to spot it and who to call if they do—that knowledge doesn’t go away… just as the human traffickers do not go away when the stadium lights are dimmed.
And perhaps it's that ripple effect that's just as important as stopping trafficking at major events. Because it is a 365-day-a-year crime that requires a 365-day-a-year response. As Rachel Lloyd, who founded the New York-based service provider gems, recently wrote – no matter what happens this weekend in New Jersey she anticipates serving close to 400 girls and young women this year in the New York area, and she knows that she will need daily food, Metrocards, stipends, toiletries, clothing, diapers, milk and funds for educational, leadership and employment training programs so that they can support and empower those young women every day of every year. And as more and more people and institutions contribute to that response, we grow nearer and nearer to our shared goal of a world free from slavery.
Thank you, and I’m happy to answer your questions.