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February 10, 2013

Human Trafficking Program Mobilizes Lawyers and Judges to Combat Modern-Day Slavery

Human Trafficking 101

Participants in the panel discussion “Human Trafficking 101 for Lawyers and Judges" (from left to right): T. Markus Funk, Shonnie Ball, ABA President Laurel Bellows, Hon. Pamila Brown, Mary C. Ellison and Norma Ramos

ABA President Laurel Bellows kicked off the Midyear Meeting program “Human Trafficking 101 for Lawyers and Judges: Understanding the Issue – Exploring Solutions” with an impassioned plea: “We’ve got real slaves in this country,” Bellows said. “We’ve all got to learn how to identify these victims and make sure they receive the resources they need, while punishing the horrible people who are their captors.”

Bellows, who has made human trafficking one of the key initiatives of her presidential term, turned the session over to a panel of experts who led the room of lawyers and judges through a discussion about the roots of human trafficking and methods to combat it.

With more than 100,000 U.S. citizens currently estimated to be victims of human trafficking, the problem is widespread in this country. Also known as modern-day slavery, human trafficking is found in big cities, small towns and rural areas.

“When people hear human trafficking, they think there has to be movement, in fact there is no requirement for movement at all,” said Shonnie Ball, an attorney with the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Office.

Video: Ball on Trafficking Victims Protection Act

For more information about human trafficking policy at the state and federal level visit the Polaris Project website.

For more information about slavery-free businesses and companies visit the Slavery Footprint website.

For more information about the ABA’s efforts to combat human trafficking visit the ABA Task Force on Human Trafficking website.

To report a tip, connect with anti-trafficking services in your area or to request training, technical assistance or general information call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888.

In legal terms, trafficking is defined by the act of recruiting, obtaining, harboring or moving victims through means of force, fraud or coercion. The two main types of human trafficking are sex trafficking and forced labor.

“We’ve got a lot of cases coming out with elements of both forced labor and sex trafficking,” Ball said.

The ABA Task Force on Human Trafficking has been focusing its efforts on changing the way the legal system approaches what is often a hidden crime. Victims may be unable or afraid to come forward while law enforcement officials often lack the resources and training to deal with the complexities of the crime.

“Many victims won’t identify themselves,” Ball said. “It’s important that we don’t treat these individuals like criminals.”

Many sex trafficking victims find themselves facing prostitution charges because police officers, prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges may not realize that they are victims and not criminals.

“We’ve got to put the focus on the demand,” said Norma Ramos, executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and a member of the ABA Task Force on Human Trafficking.  “We’ve been arresting the wrong people; we’ve been arresting the victims.”

Video: Ramos speaks on global reach of trafficking

As of Friday, with the passage of a human trafficking law in Wyoming, all 50 states in the U.S. have human trafficking laws on the books. However, only about 21 states have actually used their laws, said Mary Ellison, Director of Policy for the Polaris Project and a member of the ABA Task Force on Human Trafficking.

Video: Ellison on the Polaris Project

“We have to get laws on the books that protect people’s human rights, but the next step is that we have to hold the government accountable for enforcing those laws,” said Ellison.

On the federal level, the U.S. Congress still has to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which was first passed in 2000. However, Congress did recently pass the End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act of 2012, which together with an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in September, could have a big impact on a focus area for the ABA Task Force on Human Trafficking – working with businesses and corporations to ensure their supply chains are slavery-free.

Obama’s executive order, which states that any company that supplies goods and services to the federal government must not use slave labor, is likely to affect more than half a million companies, said Markus Funk, an attorney with Perkins Coie in Denver, who also is a member of the ABA Task Force on Human Trafficking. Specific rules and regulations that federal government contractors must follow will be published next month.

Video: Funk on role of business community

“The business community is going to be one of the biggest change makers,” Funk said.

Human trafficking victims often have a wide range of legal needs – from access to public benefits and custody issues to immigration and back wages – meaning that every lawyer can help. Friday’s panelists also urged judges to play an active role in helping the human trafficking victims they see in their court rooms.

“I urge you to be mindful of what’s going on in your courtroom and what you can do,” said Maryland District Judge Pamila Brown, former chair of the ABA Commission on Domestic Violence.

Video: Brown describes tactics of the Maryland Human Trafficking Taskforce

Hon. Pamila Brown