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As prepared

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Honorable Members of the International Survivors of Trafficking Advisory Council, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to join you today – albeit virtually – for this very important and groundbreaking event.  I would like to congratulate ODIHR, and in particular, all the members of the new survivor council, for today’s launch.

As was mentioned, this ODIHR initiative follows-up on commitments made by OSCE participating States regarding the inclusion and promotion of voices of survivors of trafficking in OSCE anti-trafficking efforts at the national and international levels

The launch of the International Survivors of Trafficking Advisory Council (ISTAC) represents yet one more milestone in the OSCE’s advanced commitments and forward-leaning endeavors in the fight against human trafficking.  In fact, survivors have already been increasingly playing an active role in various OSCE activities.  For example, survivors participated as panelists and subject experts in several conferences of the Alliance against Trafficking in Persons.  Most recently, survivors along with stakeholders, were asked to contribute to the global survey conducted by UN Women and ODIHR, which led to the policy recommendations included in the joint report titled “Addressing Emerging Human Trafficking Trends and Consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Now, with this initiative from ODIHR, the OSCE becomes the first multilateral organization to establish such a survivor council. We applaud this effort and we hope that others follow suit. I am eager to hear today more details about ISTAC and its members.  As a participating State, we look forward to hearing in the months ahead about ISTAC’s work, as incorporating survivors’ voices in policies and programs is one of our key priorities.

Indeed, the United States strongly supported the commitments made by the OSCE participating States in the recent Ministerial Council Decisions of 2017 and 2018 (Nos.  6/17, 7/17 and 6/18)  regarding a cross-dimensional and multi-disciplinary approach to combating human trafficking that recognizes the importance of voices of victims in elaborating effective victim-centered and trauma-informed anti-trafficking strategies.

Survivor engagement has been and continues to be a policy priority for my Office, and a central tenet of the State Department’s and the federal government’s approach to combating human trafficking.

  • In the United States, the Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, which was established by the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA) and enacted on May 29th 2015, provides a formal platform for trafficking survivors to advise and make recommendations on federal anti-trafficking policies to the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (PITF).  Each member is a survivor of human trafficking, and together they represent a diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. The Council is appointed by the President for two-year terms.
  • Since its establishment, the Council has produced four annual reports (available at: and collaborated with the U.S. government to implement its recommendations on enhancing federal anti-trafficking policies and programs related to: Rule of Law, Public Awareness, Victim Services, Labor Laws, Grantmaking, Survivor-Informed Leadership, and Underserved Populations.
  • One of the most notable impact and biggest accomplishment of the Council is that survivor leadership has been further elevated and embedded into the work of the federal government.  Now more than ever, we are incorporating survivor expertise and input at all stages in developing federal government policies, procedures and programs.
  • The Council’s recommendations and tireless advocacy for survivor leadership led the State Department to launch the Human Trafficking Expert Consultant Network (the Network) in 2019, allowing for the meaningful incorporation of survivor input into anti-trafficking work while also compensating them for their expertise.

Survivors play a vital role in combating human trafficking. Survivors should not be seen only as recipients of services; they run organizations, advocate before legislatures, train law enforcement officers, conduct public outreach, and collaborate with government officials.

Survivor engagement is a key aspect of establishing effective victim-centered and trauma informed anti-trafficking policies and strategies that address prosecution, protection, and prevention, as well as partnerships.  As such, concerned governments and civil society organizations must prioritize partnerships with survivors that reflect not only positive, but meaningful engagement that promotes leadership.

The integration of a trauma-informed and survivor-informed approach is essential to meaningful survivor engagement.  A trauma-informed approach recognizes and responds to the impacts and symptoms of trauma while minimizing harm and re-traumatization.  Those interacting with survivors should develop a shared understanding of trauma and trauma-informed approaches through training and other forms of internal capacity building.

With the ISTAC and U.S. Advisory Council emerging as promising models for meaningful survivor engagement, I would like to encourage other multilateral organizations to develop their own survivor-led entities  in an effort to provide, to the extent possible, a response to combating human trafficking that is truly victim-centered,  trauma-informed having benefitted from survivor input.   As we begin to see the interest of our bilateral and multilateral partners to start their own mechanisms for responsible survivor engagement turn into action, we are hopeful of the ability of elevating survivor voices to strengthen anti-trafficking efforts globally.

In closing, we look forward to ISTAC’s work and how it can help further inform and advance the efforts of the OSCE, its participating States, and its institutions.  We also hope that participating States, as well as our OSCE Mediterranean and Asian Partners for Cooperation, will consider establishing their own council or entity to channel survivor voices into effective anti-trafficking strategies.

Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future