WASHINGTON — Every time she applies for a job, Beth Jacobs, founder of sex slavery support group Willow Way, has to explain her prostitution convictions. They are a reminder of her teenage years in sex trafficking, and they are written into her criminal record. She wants to change that.
In a congressional briefing hosted Monday by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a panel of activists from various human rights organizations and survivors of slave trade discussed solutions to prevent the yearly flow of between 14,000 and 17,000 sex and labor slaves into the U.S., and encouraged improved services and considerations for trafficking victims.
The speakers pushed for legislation proposed by the Humanity United project Alliance To End Slavery & Trafficking that would require multiple business transparency measures to prevent human trafficking in supply chains. They also said a bill introduced in the Senate and House last March that would set guidelines for welfare agencies to assist youth victims of trafficking doesn’t go far enough. They recommend that adult victims be included in funding for rehabilitative survivor services.
“Access to psychological services should be a legal right,” said Margeaux Gary, a trafficking survivor. “My hope is that policymakers will make a much stronger commitment to end modern slavery, and provide every trafficking victim with the services that they need to restore their mind, body and spirit.”
According to Ima Matul, survivor coordinator with the Coalition Against Slavery and Trafficking, part of improving those services involves making better diagnoses and more specific treatment for survivors of labor or sex slavery. Gary, who struggled with eating, adrenal and post-traumatic stress disorders because of her social and physical abuse, praised a 2009 increase in Department of Justice funding for services for trafficking victims — the first of its kind in 10 years — but said more is needed to “go beyond emergency care.”
“A trafficking survivor is not 100 percent free until we rid ourselves of the trauma’s effects,” she said. “That doesn’t happen overnight. We are failing victims by not adequately providing them with services that will help them become a true survivor.”
The Alliance To End Slavery & Trafficking proposal would require companies with incomes of more than $100 million to report their efforts to address slavery and child labor to the Securities and Exchange Commission and describe those efforts on company websites. Efforts could include ensuring no goods are purchased from organizations that employ slave labor; the legislation is strictly a transparency measure, however, encouraging action within supply chains without requiring it.
The Polaris Project said human trafficking is a $32 billion industry globally.
Outside of the legislative proposal, Jacobs underscored the importance of establishing a federal law that would dismiss all former charges for trafficking victims, and give special treatment in prosecuting crimes committed due to slavery. Without such a provision, Jacobs said, life as a survivor is an “absurd reality” in which people like her are unjustly viewed as criminals.
“Many other women, like me, will be denied jobs,” she said. “[Victims] need help and services, not condemnation and blame.”