Saturday, April 4, 2015

Modern Slavery

At six years old, Rachel had a seemingly normal childhood in Nebraska. She had a stable family environment with lots of brothers and sisters. Rachel was a bit introverted and perhaps this created some vulnerability for her. She was lured in by a neighbor, who in his perversion, set out to sell her for sex to the highest bidder. It’s hard to imagine such trauma could be done to a child, but it happens.

In order to protect her younger siblings from the same fate, Rachel did not tell anyone. Rachel was sold several times around Omaha for a decade. When she turned sixteen, she became too old for profit making by her abusers. Fortunately, Rachel had a support system strong enough to heal these deep wounds, and now, as an adult, she tells her story to help fight sex trafficking in Nebraska.

Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery that occurs around the world. In many cases the victims are vulnerable persons, often poor or disadvantaged, and are drawn in by economic arrangements. Many suffer ruthless sexual abuse. Even if the victims seek to escape, they are often coerced back into slavery.

Human trafficking is an attack on the fundamental principles of human dignity, human rights, and justice. It is estimated that 17,500 persons are trafficked into the United States annually. Within America, approximately 100,000 children are exploited each year. It happens--even in Nebraska.

I recently held a human trafficking roundtable with Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson where I heard Rachel’s story. Unfortunately, her story is not isolated. We learned that some victims are branded with a bar code or other mark to help keep track of them. Several good Nebraska organizations such as the Child Advocacy Center, the Salvation Army, and the Nebraska Family Alliance have taken leadership roles in raising awareness and helping persons caught in this cycle of abuse.

Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed 12 bills to enact tougher enforcement mechanisms and better aid trafficking victims. These bills were designed to augment the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which was signed into law in 2000. As a requirement of this law, the Department of State provides an annual update on occurrences of trafficking, both domestically and internationally. Countries that are not in compliance with international anti-trafficking standards and do not take appropriate measures to combat trafficking are listed in the Trafficking in Persons Report. The report also identifies countries who recruit and use child soldiers, another pernicious form of human trafficking. In 2008, I introduced the Child Soldiers Prevention Act to require this identification and to place restrictions on security assistance for countries found in violation. Children belong on playgrounds, not on battlegrounds--or in sexual slavery.

William Wilberforce, the British statesman and abolitionist for whom the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was later renamed, said, "You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know." We do know about human trafficking and we cannot look the other way. Our collective conscience obligates us to combat this most serious human rights violation.

About the Author:

JEFF FORTENBERRY has served as the U.S. Representative for Nebraska's 1st congressional district since 2005. He is the Chairperson for the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight, Nutrition and Forestry. Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights and has a seat on the Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. He is a member of the following Caucus groups: Civil War Battlefield Caucus - Congressional Biofuels Caucus - Congressional Farmer Cooperative Caucus - House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus - International Conservation Caucus - Sportsmen's Caucus.

Congressman Fortenberry has become the most knowledgeable representative on Capitol Hill for nuclear security issues.

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