Letter From Susan Coppedge, Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
This year, the theme of the Trafficking in Persons Report is increasing criminal accountability of human traffickers and addressing challenges in prosecution—an essential component of the 3P paradigm of prosecution, protection, and prevention. As a former federal prosecutor in the United States and now as Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, this topic is deeply personal to me.
I am particularly and acutely aware of the lives destroyed by human trafficking. I will never forget a young woman in a case I prosecuted, a survivor who I’ll call Teresa. She was raised in Central America by her grandmother, and as a young woman, was deceived by a man she thought cared for her with promises of love and a better life. That man brought Teresa to the United States and, instead of building a new life with her, forced her into commercial sex, took all the money she was paid, and intimidated her with threats of deportation and humiliation before her family. His threats not only instilled fear in Teresa and coerced her into exploitation; they also convinced her she was a criminal for violating federal immigration and local anti-prostitution laws.
There are people like Teresa trapped in compelled service all over the world who fear that justice systems will punish them, rather than convict and incarcerate their traffickers—and in reality their fears are often justified. Teresa ultimately stood before a judge in a case against her trafficker and shared her experience in a court of law. What’s more, she saw her trafficker convicted and sentenced to jail, and she received an award of restitution for the money he made by exploiting her. When the case was over, I was able to return to Teresa a picture she had carried with her to the United States of her grandmother, who had since passed away—a memory of her prior life. While governments can never fully reverse the trauma of human trafficking, they can help survivors pursue the justice they deserve and return to a life of their choosing, a life with dignity and free will.
When I engage with representatives of foreign governments, I often speak with police, investigators, prosecutors, and judges. I commend those who are fearless in the fight against human trafficking—those who courageously take on the tough cases, those who argue for stringent sentences for criminals and restitution for victims, and those who do so while ensuring that victims are treated with dignity. A victim-centered and trauma-informed approach requires, first and foremost, that the criminal justice system not penalize victims of human trafficking when they are forced to commit crimes as a direct result of their exploitation. When forced criminality takes place as part of the scheme, victims should not be further punished by the very system meant to protect them; and when they are, their convictions should be expunged and they should receive support and the comprehensive services to which they are entitled.
In my time serving as Ambassador-at-Large, I have had the incredible honor of meeting inspiring individuals who fight each day to end modern slavery. I have seen first-hand how those on the ground in countries around the world implement effective strategies to combat human trafficking. Having the benefit and honor of these experiences, I am confident that we are closer than ever to creating strong communities where justice and freedom prevail.
Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor
and Combat Trafficking in Persons