WASHINGTON – The U.S. Helsinki Commission turned its attention to the problem of human trafficking in the United States in a hearing held last Tuesday. Entitled “Exploiting Americans on American Soil: Domestic Trafficking Exposed,” the hearing explored the rising tide of human trafficking by Americans against other Americans, especially women and children.
“In the past, the Commission has looked at human trafficking in Europe and Eurasia,” said Commission Co-Chair, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), “But we have a problem right here in the United States and we can’t afford to ignore it. The Commission is committed to eradicating human trafficking everywhere it takes place, and we are not going to ignore this crisis, even when it is home grown.”
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.
“We have only just begun to explore the dimensions of the human trafficking problem in the United States,” added Commission Ranking Member Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD). “When you consider the hundreds of thousands of innocent women and children who are caught up in this nightmare every year, you begin to get a sense of just how deep a trafficking problem America has. The Congress has done a lot to address this problem, but we still have a long way to go.”
The U.S. Government estimates that 600,000 and 800,000 women, children and men are bought and sold across international borders each year and exploited for sex or forced labor. When victims trafficked internally within the borders of countries are included in estimates, the total number of trafficking victims each year is believed to be 2,000,000 to 4,000,000.
“When I authored and the Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, I knew that it would only be a first step to putting an end to human trafficking,” added Smith. “Yet when you look at the State Department’s latest Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, it takes your breath away to see the depth of the problem we still have. We need more policing, better training, and better outreach to at-risk populations such as runaways and abandoned children, and we need it now.”
According to the National Runaway Switchboard, between 1.3 and 2.8 million runaways and homeless youths are living on America’s streets. This is the most at risk population for exploitation according to most studies.
“We have children whose lives are shattered forever,” added Cardin. “You see such life and such hope wasted. It breaks your heart.”