“I remember the first time someone named what had been happening to me for the majority of my life. ‘Sex trafficking.’ It shattered everything around me. What had been happening to me since I was a toddler wasn’t normal. It wasn’t okay. It didn’t happen to everyone. I was a survivor of a heinous crime, yes, but naming what had happened to me gave me the hope that it didn’t have to keep happening, that I could be free of it someday.” — Survivor.
Imagine spending every moment of every day wishing you could be free. Wishing someone cared about you. This is the wish of the millions of men, women, and children each year who are victims of one of the world’s oldest and fastest-growing criminal enterprises—human trafficking. Despite this enormous number of victims, it is estimated by the State Department that victim identification is around 1%.
Right now, Congress has an opportunity to create lasting change by passing a crucial piece of legislation, the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act. Human trafficking victims are in our communities and we must take deliberate steps to identify the other 99 percent and support every survivor.
The Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA), H.R. 6552, was introduced in Congress on Feb. 8, 2022, by Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Karen Bass (D-Calif.). This vital piece of legislation would authorize $1.6 billion over five years to combat modern-day slavery like human trafficking by funding programs that include social services, life skills training, education, employment, and college scholarships; and remains the only introduced bill in the House to accomplish this goal.
This initiative began in 2000 when Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Prevention Act. However, this critical legislation requires Congress to act every five years, allowing them to strengthen our laws and stand in solidarity with trafficking victims and survivors. Although being able to legislate on this issue regularly provides opportunities for victims and survivors, it can also fall victim to partisan gridlock. This bill has been up for consideration in Congress for several months, with no concrete action being taken for survivors and victims.
Congress is wavering on its commitment to survivors, vulnerable children, and the American people. Members are using the TVPRA as a bargaining chip for their own political gain; while traffickers are targeting vulnerable populations, victims are still trapped in their trafficking situation, and survivors grasp for limited services. This is a non-controversial, bipartisan bill that needs to make it to the floor for a vote — without any further delay.
We can and should do better for the victims and survivors worldwide. As we call on Congress to step up and act to protect people across the globe, we need the help of people across the country. It is as easy as placing a call to your representative, sending an email, or showing up at their local town hall.
At Safe House Project, we see the benefits that survivors can reap from these services. Our mission is to increase survivor identification beyond 1 percent through education, provide emergency services and placement to survivors, and ensure every survivor has access to safe housing and holistic care by accelerating safe house capacity and development across America. Here, we want to unite communities to end domestic sex trafficking and restore hope, freedom, and a future to every survivor. We have launched 272 beds across the country and know that the passage of this legislation will help so many more vulnerable boys, girls, women, and men, from the youngest children to the elderly.
It takes courage to step up, but when we each act courageously, including our elected officials, to keep safe places safe, support survivors, and protect vulnerable populations, we cultivate a community where all people are valued and can thrive. Change takes courage. Human trafficking will be eradicated when each of us dares to speak out for those who are being victimized and step in to prevent abuse before it happens. We can choose to act courageously and stand in the gap to see an end to human trafficking, but first, we must answer this simple question: “Do we have the courage to take action?”
Brittany Dunn is COO of Safe House Project, a (501c3) nonprofit combatting domestic sex trafficking.