This is a vital and challenging time for all of us. The United States is engaged on countless active fronts on every continent across the globe—big, simultaneous confrontations and efforts.
Among those challenges, and one absolutely inextricably linked to the broader effort to spread the rule of law and face the crisis of failed and failing states, we find perhaps no greater assault on basic freedom than the evil of human trafficking. Whether it comes in the form of a young girl trapped in a brothel, a woman enslaved as a domestic worker, a boy forced to sell himself on the street, or a man abused on a fishing boat, the victims of this crime have been robbed of the right to lead the lives they choose for themselves, and trafficking and its consequences have a spill-over effect that touches every element of a society.
The fight against modern slavery is deeply personal to me. When I was a prosecutor outside of Boston in the 1970s, I worked to put criminals behind bars for rape and sexual assault. We were actually one of the very first jurisdictions in America to set up a witness protection program for victims.
My time as a prosecutor seared in me a simple lesson: Only when we start focusing on victims as survivors —not just as potential witnesses—can we provide them with a greater measure of justice, and help them find the courage to step forward.
Survivors know better than anyone the steps we need to take to identify those enslaved and bring to justice those responsible. When a Cambodian man is lured under false pretenses and subjected to forced labor far from home, he knows better than anyone how we mitigate that risk. When a young Nepalese woman is coerced into a sex industry, she knows better than anyone how to help law enforcement spot future victims of this crime. And when this woman cooperates in the conviction of her trafficker, she knows better than anyone what makes that process less traumatic and our efforts more effective.
We each have a responsibility to make this horrific and all-too-common crime a lot less common. And our work with victims is the key that will open the door to real change—not just on behalf of the more than 44,000 survivors who have been identified in the past year, but also for the more than 20 million victims of trafficking who have not.
As Secretary of State, I’ve seen with my own two eyes countless individual acts of courage and commitment. I’ve seen how victims of this crime can become survivors and how survivors can become voices of conscience and conviction in the cause.
This year’s Trafficking in Persons Report offers a roadmap for the road ahead as we confront the scourge of trafficking. Whether a concerned citizen, a board member, a government official, or a survivor of trafficking, we each have a responsibility to spot human trafficking, engage our communities, and commit to take action. I invite you to help us turn the page.
John F. Kerry
Secretary of State