January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

Perspective by: Jill Follows,
LWVFA and UN Observer LWVUS

One year ago, a U.S. Presidential Proclamation declared January to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. The Proclamation called on all of us to raise awareness of the need to end all modern forms of slavery. “As a Nation, we cherish and uphold the notion that all people are created with inherent dignity and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Human trafficking and enslavement robs victims of these God-given endowments.” Read the full text here. 

The Presidential Proclamation is a ceremonial announcement of a policy and does not have the force of law. As with many policies, the title of the Proclamation is suitable and the text requires scrutiny, if only to crystallize the facts and appreciate diverse perspectives. The perspectives of the United Nations, LWVUS and the Commonwealth of Virginia vis a vis human trafficking are presented in this article.

The Title of the Presidential Proclamation is Suitable: On the first anniversary of the Proclamation, it is appropriate that the Virginia League of Women Voters recommit itself to raise awareness of and support steps to combat human trafficking within our own state and national borders. Estimates are that human traffickers exploit 77% of victims within the borders of their own country.  People do not have to move across international borders to be exploited by human traffickers. Indeed, the vast majority of trafficked persons do not move across such borders. 

Tackling the scourge of human trafficking in the “hot spot” known as the Metro DC region has been a priority initiative of the Virginia LWV. Previous League reports of studies on human trafficking noted that women and teens are disproportionately affected. 

The Position of the National League on Human Trafficking: “The League of Women Voters opposes all forms of domestic and international human trafficking of adults and children, including sex trafficking and labor trafficking. We consider human trafficking to be a form of modern-day slavery and believe that every measure should be taken and every effort should be made through legislation and changes in public policy to prevent human trafficking. Prosecution and penalization of traffickers and abusers should be established, and existing laws should be strictly enforced. Extensive essential services for victims should be applied where needed. Education and awareness programs on human trafficking should be established in our communities and in our schools.”

Human Trafficking Hotline


The Perspective of the Virginia State Crime Commission and Virginia General Assembly on Combatting Sex Trafficking: The Virginia State Crime Commission (Commission) tackled the plague of human trafficking a year ago. In January 2019 the Commission concluded that Virginia needed to address the root causes of sex trafficking, identify at-risk youth, increase awareness and education and training across relevant professions and reduce the demand for commercial sex trafficking. The Commission endorsed 11 recommendations to combat sex trafficking. The following six recommendations were enacted during the Regular Session of the 2019 General Assembly:

  • allow the Department of Social Services to take emergency custody of children who are victims of sex trafficking; 
  • authorize charging sex traffickers for each individual act of commercial sex trafficking; 
  • increase penalties for aiding in prostitution and using a vehicle to promote prostitution when the victim is a minor;
  • create a statewide Sex Trafficking Response Coordinator position; 
  • create a fund to promote training and education awareness related to sex trafficking; 
  • allow juvenile victims to testify via two-way closed-circuit television

The Perspective of the United Nations on Combatting Human Trafficking- Scrutiny of the Text of the Presidential Proclamation: The UN perspective is premised on two fundamental principles: (1) human rights are at the center of all efforts to combat trafficking AND (2) anti-trafficking measures should not adversely impact the human rights and dignity of the persons trafficked.

In stark contrast to the Presidential Proclamation that persons receive God-given endowments of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the United Nations makes it clear that human rights are inalienable rights. People are not endowed by God with rights or granted rights by anyone or any entity. The UN leaves no space for discriminatory language that restricts human rights protections to trafficked persons based on their personal belief in God, creed, race, age, sex, sexual orientation, citizenship status, nationality, ethnicity or class.

The Proclamation’s claim that the construction of a physical wall at the southern border of the USA will stop human trafficking belies the fact that 77% of human traffickers operate within a country’s borders. The United Nations clearly articulates that basic human rights do not discriminate against persons based on nationality or citizenship status.

The UN also highlights the fact that women and children are disproportionately traumatized by human trafficking. Any failure to acknowledge the disproportionate impact of human trafficking on women and children miscalculates and minimizes the facts and may adversely impact their lives and livelihoods.

In 2004, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (the precursor to today’s Human Rights Council) threw its support behind the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons; in 2017, the mandate was extended three more years. The Special Rapporteur’s primary mandate is to focus on the human rights of the victims of trafficking in persons, especially women and children and “take(s) action on violations committed against trafficked persons and on situations in which there has been a failure to protect their human rights.”  The Special Rapporteur identified the PILLARS of human rights-based response to trafficking with the catchy mnemonic known informally as the “5P’s and 3 R’s: Protection; Prosecution; Punishment; Prevention; Promotion AND Redress; Rehabilitation; Reintegration.

  • Protection-the rapid identification and protection of victims of trafficking;
  • Prosecution-State Parties must investigate and prosecute allegations of trafficking;
  • Punishment-sanctions should subject responsible traffickers to effective and dissuasive punishment;
  • Prevention-recognize the causes of trafficking and implementing positive measures to stop future acts;
  • Promotion of international cooperation-human trafficking does not recognize geographic borders.
  • Redress- State Parties shall compensate the lost income of victims from the proceeds of traffickers;
  • Rehabilitation-restore the victim’s status and position in the eyes of the law and in the community;
  • Reintegration of Victims into Society-show respect for the repatriated individual’s rights, including their right to privacy and right not to be discriminated against.


The United Nations has a History of Advancing Human Rights of Trafficked Persons. Two of the more recent and relevant UN human rights instruments are highlighted.

First, the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (Convention) entered into force in July 1951. It focuses on the punishment and prosecution of traffickers and social measures in aid to the trafficked persons. The Preamble to the Convention lists the already existing instruments, dating back to 1904, targeting the suppression of traffic in women in children. In doing so, the Convention acknowledged the historic and horrific impact of trafficking on women and children. Some Articles in the Convention called on the Parties to the Convention to address specifically the needs of trafficked women and children. For example:

Article 17(1): “To make such regulations as are necessary for the protection of immigrants or emigrants, and in particular, women and children, both at the places of arrival and departure and while en route.”

Article 20: “The Parties to the present Convention shall, if they have not already done so, take the necessary measures for the supervision of employment agencies in order to prevent persons seeking employment, in particular women and children, from being exposed to the danger of prostitution.”


The United States is not a Party to this Convention. https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=VII-11-a&chapter=7&clang=_en

The second recent and relevant UN human rights instrument is the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (Protocol.) (November 2000) The Preamble and General Provisions of this Protocol place the plight of trafficked women and children at the center of its approach and calls on all Parties to protect their internationally recognized human rights.

The second section of the Protocol sets forth the means by which governments shall protect the victims of trafficking, such as protecting the victim’s privacy and physical safety and assisting the victim with court proceedings, housing, counseling, medical and psychological and material assistance, employment, education, and training opportunities. There are also provisions dealing with the repatriation of victims of trafficking. (Articles 6-8)

The third section of the Protocol sets forth the measures by which governments shall prevent trafficking. The Protocol calls on governments to cooperate with non-governmental organizations to strengthen measures that will reduce poverty and increase opportunities for trafficked persons, especially women and children. (Articles 9-13)

The final section of the Protocol addresses the procedural mechanisms for settling disputes between State Parties and the ratification process for the Protocol. Of particular note is the non-discrimination language in the text. Article 14 (2) states: The measures set forth in this Protocol shall be interpreted and applied in a way this is not discriminatory to persons on the ground that they are victims of trafficking in persons. The interpretation and application of those measures shall be consistent with internationally recognized principles on non-discrimination. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/ProtocolTraffickingInPersons.aspx

The United States is a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime with respect to the offenses established in the trafficking Protocol. https://treaties.un.org/Pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XVIII-12-a&chapter=18&clang=_en#EndDec

In Support of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month: It is vital to the health and welfare of victims of human trafficking, especially women and children, that the League continue to raise awareness of human rights and the Commonwealth’s initiatives to combat human trafficking.


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