Sometimes it makes sense to look at an issue by the numbers. In the last year of the global fight against modern slavery, hundreds of new partners—from law firms and local governments to foundations and tech companies—have enlisted in the effort. Dozens of modern anti-trafficking laws have been passed, within the United States and around the world. And millions of dollars have been pledged to this worthy cause.
Impressive figures, but the number that best characterizes the progress of the anti-trafficking movement is sadly still very small. Because reporting is uneven, we can’t say for certain how many victims of trafficking are identified each year. This Report estimates that, based on the information governments have provided, only around 40,000 victims have been identified in the last year. In contrast, social scientists estimate that as many as 27 million men, women, and children are trafficking victims at any given time. That means we’re bringing to light only a mere fraction of those who are exploited in modern slavery. That number, and the millions who remain unidentified, are the numbers that deserve our focus.
So as this movement grows and gains momentum, the reality is that most of this crime still occurs in the shadows, unseen and beyond the reach of law; that millions of victims aren’t getting the support and services they need; that too few traffickers are being put out of business and behind bars; and that their victims are not moving on with the lives they choose for themselves as empowered survivors.
While the anti-trafficking movement races forward with new innovations and partnerships, new buzzwords and standards, we mustn’t lose sight of the basic idea that underpins this struggle: human trafficking is a crime, and governments are responsible for fighting it in a way that restores victims and deters those who would steal another’s freedom. Those are the underpinnings of the Trafficking Victim Protection Act’s minimum standards and the U.N. Protocol’s “3P” approach. Successful victim identification is the starting point to stopping this crime, and for meeting those international standards.
That’s why the 2013 Report focuses on the importance of effective victim identification, and on those approaches and policies that have succeeded in bringing victims out of the darkness of exploitation. The Report outlines specific steps officials should take—from legislators and judges to police officers and border guards—to make sure the victims of this crime don’t go unrecognized. And it illustrates why identifying victims by itself is not enough—they need to be given a true voice in the process.
As this Report shows, no government has perfected victim identification. As we work to improve our own response to this crime, the United States will continue to partner with any government working to address this challenge. Because when we do look at this issue by the numbers, our successes must be measured by the number of lives restored—the number of men, women, and children who can live without the fear of exploitation and with the freedom to choose their own futures.
Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and
Combat Trafficking in Persons