2018 TIP Report: Good News, Bad News, and A Critical Oversight

 Photo: 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report

Photo: 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report

Like most things in Washington, the annual release of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report was a good news/bad news story. On the positive front, Acting Director Kari Johnstone of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, appears to be a straight shooter. In past years, the annual Trafficking in Persons report has been subject to accusations of political influence. Countries that are of obvious interest to US diplomatic efforts appeared to be rated a bit better than circumstances on the ground warranted. So there was a lot of trepidation concerning the 2018 report -- the first organized by the Trump administration. Advocates feared that countries like Russia, whose leadership has been praised by the President, might get a softer rating than deserved. This was not the case. Russia remained listed as one of the egregious jurisdictions for human trafficking, joining the likes of Burma and North Korea.  

Additional good news could be found in continental progress. Africa, which has been cited in previous reports for profound difficulties in both labor and sex trafficking, saw the greatest improvement.  More than a quarter of the nations that were reported to have improved status in the trafficking report were found in Africa. Ghana in particular was singled out, and a representative program in Ghana received a “trafficking heroes” award at the ceremony. This elevated status in the State Department’s TIP report correlates with increased efforts by ECPAT International to find African partners to join our network, an effort that has met with real success.

But we cannot let the TIP report pass by without acknowledging an important oversight. In addition to analyzing the anti-trafficking programs of nearly every nation in the world, the TIP report also has a section devoted to the efforts of our own government. The theme of this year’s report is “Effective ways that local communities can address human trafficking proactively and how national governments can support and empower them” or more pithily described at the report rollout as “local solutions to a global problem.”  

However, one vitally important approach to preventing child sex trafficking, and child sexual exploitation generally, is the education of children. Disturbingly, the US section of the TIP report fails to mention this approach at all. The State Department’s omission highlights two concerns for ECPAT USA. First, education policy and curricula in the United States is decentralized and localized. In short, it is exactly the kind of “local solution to a global problem” that the State Department sought to highlight. However, that decentralization and localization makes identifying best practices very difficult and time consuming. Individual school districts across the country are beginning to consider the problem of human trafficking and how to best inoculate their students to the danger. However, while a wide variety of curricula exist, there has been no effort to create a central repository where education policy makers might turn to evaluate the sort of approach that might work best for their school district.  

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Secondly, the TIP report’s neglect of child education emphasizes that the U.S. Department of Education is woefully absent from the national effort to combat trafficking. The Departments of Justice and State have always been at the forefront of Federal anti-trafficking efforts, but other agencies have also stepped up, like the Department of Homeland Security, and more recently the Department of Transportation. Meanwhile, one of the most fundamental tools in the Federal toolbox goes unutilized because there is effectively no element of the Department of Education tasked with confronting human trafficking.  

At ECPAT-USA, we are making the education of children a central part of our work. Because studies show that children in their teens consult with their peers, we seek to arm middle school and high school students with the facts about child trafficking. The aim of this outreach is to assist children in protecting themselves, and aiding them in talking to their friends and peers. Currently, ECPAT has a successful educational outreach program with three distinct workshops  in New York City Schools. Additionally, we have the Youth Against Child Trafficking (Y-ACT) program that empowers school children to take the lead in local anti-trafficking efforts. We have found that kids themselves make the most effective advocates in their communities, providing facts about risks and addressing the misconceptions around child sexual exploitation.

So we will continue our work with the U.S. State Department and the Federal Government to emphasize that education is the key to trafficking prevention. And beyond that advocacy mission, we will continue our work with local educators to help train as many kids as we can to avoid the risks of people seeking to exploit them.   

 

Banner image and gallery: 2018 TIP Report


 Read the 2018 Trafficking in Persons report  here .

Read the 2018 Trafficking in Persons report here.

More Information

Read the U.S. State Department's 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report.

Visit our Youth Education page to learn more about Y-ACT and ECPAT-USA's youth initiatives.

View our latest PSA, #AnyKidAnySchool, which spotlights the problem of child sex trafficking in the U.S.

 

State Department Report Cites Trafficking Dangers of Family Separation

The State Department released its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report last Thursday, warning governments about the dangers of separating families and institutionalizing children. Within the past three months, 2,300 migrant families have been separated at the U.S.- Mexico border, leaving vulnerable children at a greater risk of human trafficking.

“Children in institutional care, including government-run facilities, can be easy targets for traffickers,” the report reads. These institutions, it states, cannot provide the emotional and psychological support these children would get in an intact familial situation.

 An immigrant child looks out from a U.S. Border Patrol bus leaving the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, June 23, 2018. David J. Phillip/AP

An immigrant child looks out from a U.S. Border Patrol bus leaving the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center in McAllen, Texas, June 23, 2018. David J. Phillip/AP

The TIP Report’s warning against child institutionalization echoes an earlier statement from Carol Smolenski, executive director of ECPAT-USA: “Children are vulnerable to human trafficking—they are easy to manipulate, trick, and control...When a child is separated from their family for any reason whether poverty, natural disasters, wars, or through government policies they become more vulnerable to human trafficking.” She also said that separation from parents can lead to greater risks later on including mental health issues, namely trauma, “[making] them easy prey for people who want to take advantage of them.”

The TIP Report also states that children leaving or aging out of these institutions do not escape the dangers. “The vulnerability to human trafficking continues, in part due to the physical and psychological damage many of these children have suffered.” Being in a family allows children to “experience common life or social situations, and practice using cognitive reasoning and problem-solving skills.” Without the ability to develop these social, emotional, and psychological skills, these children and young adults continue to be susceptible to traffickers.

The immigration policy widely referred to as the “zero-tolerance” policy was implemented in April, sending minors to government run facilities while they awaited the prosecution of their parents and guardians. Though the policy was ended June 20th, 2,047 children remain in the facilities.  

“What is happening at the U.S. border with children from Latin America is a perversion of law enforcement and migration policy,” said Ms. Smolenski. “It is the antithesis of everything the U.S. stands for (remember “give me your tired, your poor”?)”.


More Information

View the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report, in particular the section on Child Institutionalization and Human Trafficking.

Read our Executive Director’s statement on the torture of children at the United States border.

 

Stop the Torture of Children at the United States Border

Today ECPAT-USA's Executive Director, Carol Smolenski, released this statement calling for an immediate end to the torture of children at the United States border:

"Children are vulnerable to human trafficking—they are easy to manipulate, trick, and control.  We teach them that adults will take care of them. When a child is separated from their family for any reason whether poverty, natural disasters, wars, or through government policies they become more vulnerable to human trafficking.  

Being separated from one’s family can be extremely traumatizing. This trauma increases a child’s vulnerability to mental health problems that make them easy prey for people who want to take advantage of them such as traffickers and abusers. Growing up within an intact family provides a protective environment and supports a healthy prosperous future for every child. I cannot imagine a worse place to grow up in than an internment camp.  

A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border (John Moore/Getty Images)

The photos and videos we’ve all seen through the media are horrifying. I thought I lived in a country that at least made pronouncements that children are important, that we hold them in high regard, that children everywhere are precious and entitled to protection and care.  

The entire world has reached a consensus that children are people who have human rights, and that they even have special rights to protection because of their vulnerabilities. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has been universally ratified, with one exception. The U.S. is the only country that has not ratified this treaty. The current display of officially sanctioned child abuse and neglect epitomizes just how far outside the mainstream of global child-protection principles the current U.S. administration is.  

What is happening at the U.S. border with children from Latin America is a perversion of law enforcement and migration policy. It is the antithesis of everything the U.S. stands for (remember “give me your tired, your poor”?) As Americans, we believe in a United States that offers a shining beacon of hope to people from around the world. We thought we were better than this. We thought that inflicting suffering on babies and children in order to coerce their parents to act differently was something that bad countries did. It turns out that many of our fellow citizens don’t think this way at all. They think that any kind of emotional torture, even on the youngest children, is acceptable if you think it might keep people from coming to the U.S.

There are no words to describe how despicable this is. Every child needs their parents. Every government policy should protect the parent-child bond. The current policy of separating children from their parents, for whatever reason, is simply evil. It has to be stopped in the name of protecting children and of protecting our country. I urge the Administration to change policies that allow for the separation of children from their families at the borders and the release of all children back into the safety of their families."

Cover Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

Men: A Call to Action

Men: A Call to Action

Child sexual exploitation is a profound challenge to our society and to countries around the globe. Given the scale and persistence of the problem, it is an issue that requires all parts of our community to contribute to the solution. And we are fortunate to live an era that recognizes the horrors of modern slavery and has taken initial steps to address it. However, there is one element of society that can have a disproportionate impact in bringing child sexual exploitation to an end, and that is men.

One Travel Professional’s Experience Is An Important Reminder Of Vulnerability Of Homeless Youth

By Michelle Guelbart and Emily Becker

ECPAT-USA_OregonRescue.jpg

Dawn Rasmussen, an Oregon-based resume writer and career management coach, cited the training she received from Meeting Professionals International (MPI), an ECPAT-USA partner as the vehicle that gave her the confidence to intervene in a recent situation that could have turned into a trafficking scenario.

Dawn had been kayaking at an Oregon state park, in a rural area, and was returning to her car when she noticed a young woman walking around the nearly empty parking lot. She had a number of bags with her, and clearly, none of the cars in the lot belonged to her. The girl wandered close to the MPI member, who asked her if she needed anything. When the young woman responded she was waiting for someone, Dawn said that’s when alarm bells started going off.

Instead of continuing about her day, Dawn, enlisted the help of two other women who had arrived at the park to talk with the girl while she called the police. In a Facebook post, Dawn referred to the group as a “small covey of guardian angels.” On a phone call with ECPAT-USA she noted that the series of events—receiving training, seeing the girl, enlisting the support of equally concerned women—didn’t feel like a coincidence. Dawn told ECPAT-USA that she felt like “an instrument,” like she was put in the situation.

The women noticed inconsistencies in her story, an indicator cited in ECPAT-USA training. They learned that she had just run away from home, and while she said she was 22, she seemed much younger. Initially she said that she was waiting for her brother. Then she said she was waiting for a friend of her brother’s.

At this point, over an hour had passed and no one had come to pick up the young woman. The three women, who have stayed in touch since the incident, decided together that they would wait with the girl until the police arrived and hoped that the officers would be able to get the young woman the resources she needed.

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Runaway and homeless youth are a population that is especially vulnerable to traffickers in the U.S. Isolated and lacking basic needs such as food and shelter, homeless youth are prone to coercion tactics used by traffickers. A study in 2013 conducted by Covenant House, an organization that serves homeless youth, homeless teens in NYC who were survivors of sex trafficking said a lack of a safe place to sleep had been their number one concern when they had been drawn into commercial sexual exploitation.

Our corporate training programs help to teach members of the hotel and travel industry the signs of and how to best respond to instances of child sex trafficking. With these tools, individuals are better equipped with how to respond when, like Dawn, they see something that causes their “alarm bells” to go off and help protect other kids from exploitation.

To learn more about how your company can train associates to help end child sex trafficking click here, and to learn more about our youth program that helps empower students to become leaders and advocates in their community, click here.

To schedule a time to speak with ECPAT-USA or Dawn, contact Michelle Guelbart at michelle@ecpatusa.org.

ECPAT-USA’s Director of Private Sector Engagement, Michelle Guelbart, invited Dawn to tell her story at an ECPAT-USA session during Meeting Professionals International World Education Congress in Indianapolis on Monday, June 4 from 1:15 PM - 2:15 PM.

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ECPAT-USA Offering New Resources to Help Hotels Fight Trafficking of Children

ECPAT-USA Offering New Resources to Help Hotels Fight Trafficking of Children

ECPAT-USA and American Hotel & Lodging Association Build on Partnership to Distribute New Materials for Hotels

Brooklyn, NY (May 24, 2018) — Hotels have new resources to help associates identify and prevent human trafficking and child exploitation, ECPAT-USA announced today. Hotels can download the following materials for free from ECPAT-USA’s website

  • Informative back-of-house posters to remind staff about the signs of human trafficking and how to respond if they see suspicious activity. 

  • Position-specific indicator palm cards to share with associates so they have fast access to the signs and swiftly follow hotel protocols for responding to cases.

  • Public area (front-of-house) posters that meet several state laws, which require hotels to post signage about human trafficking that includes the National Human Trafficking Hotline. 

ECPAT-USA has a long history of working with the hotel industry. Most major hotel brands have signed the ECPAT Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct (The Code). The Code is an industry-driven set of initiatives travel companies can implement to prevent child sex trafficking and exploitation. Code companies commit to training their staff to recognize when someone might be a victim. 

“Children are identified as victims of trafficking at hotels across the country, putting hotel employees in a unique position to identify trafficking and take action to help victims,” said Carol Smolenski, Executive Director of ECPAT-USA. “From check-in to check-out, there are a number of indicators victims and traffickers exhibit during the time they're on a hotel property. With proper training, a front desk agent or a housekeeper can notice that something is not right and respond.”

“AHLA and the hotel industry take the issue of human trafficking very seriously, and we recognize the important role hotels can play in helping to fight it,” said Craig Kalkut, Vice President of Government Affairs at AHLA. “AHLA and its members are focused on raising awareness within the industry, training employees, and supporting non-profit organizations and law enforcement in their efforts to combat these terrible crimes. ECPAT-USA has been a valuable partner in these efforts, and we appreciate everything they are doing to put an end to these heinous crimes.”

These newly available resources add to ECPAT-USA’s growing collection of tools for hotels. Notably, ECPAT-USA offers a training program for hotel associates developed in partnership with the hotel industry, which is distributed by American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute, and is already used globally by hotel brands.


About ECPAT-USA

ECPAT-USA is the leading anti-child trafficking organization in the United States seeking to end the commercial, sexual exploitation of children through awareness, advocacy, policy, and legislation. ECPAT-USA is a member of ECPAT International, a network of organizations in more than 90 countries with one common mission: to eliminate the sexual exploitation of children around the world. For more information, visit ecpatusa.org.

 

About AHLA

The American Hotel & Lodging Association is the sole national association representing all segments of the U.S. lodging industry, and has long worked to combat human trafficking. As part of its ongoing campaign to raise awareness and facilitate training in the industry, AHLA has conducted webinars for members, issued industry principles on human trafficking, hosted a variety of trafficking experts to speak at its meetings and conferences, endorsed legislation, taken part in panels discussions organized by law enforcement and other stakeholders, and partnered with organizations like ECPAT-USA.

ConferenceDirect Signs ECPAT-USA Code

Washington, D.C. (May 22, 2018) — ConferenceDirect has signed the ECPAT-USA Code, making a commitment to work against the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism. The Code, or Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism, was developed by ECPAT to provide awareness, tools, and support to the hospitality and tourism industry to end the sex trafficking of children.

“We’re proud to have signed ECPAT’s Code, to make an impact and help prevent sexual exploitation of children in the tourism industry. Our Associates travel often, and with the tools and training we continue to learn, we will all be more alert to potential situations,” said Brian Stevens, CEO of ConferenceDirect.

Stevens signed The Code on Tuesday, May 22nd in Washington, DC with Carol Smolenski, the Founder and Executive Director of ECPAT-USA. "We are honored to partner with ConferenceDirect to fight child sex trafficking in the global meetings industry and beyond. ConferenceDirect joins a family of leading companies committed to ending the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism by taking six steps including staff training and adopting a policy against sexual exploitation. This signing represents the latest step forward in reaching that goal,” said Smolenski. "We especially thank Brian Stevens and ConferenceDirect’s leadership for championing this vital cause to protect children from exploitation."


About ECPAT-USA

ECPAT-USA is the leading anti-child trafficking organization in the United States seeking to end the commercial, sexual exploitation of children through awareness, advocacy, policy, and legislation. ECPAT-USA is a member of ECPAT International, a network of organizations in more than 90 countries with one common mission: to eliminate the sexual exploitation of children around the world. Learn more at ecpatusa.org.

 

About ConferenceDirect

Based in West Hollywood, California, ConferenceDirect is a full-service global meetings solution company whose portfolio of services includes: Site Selection & Contract Negotiation, Conference Management, Housing & Registration Services, Mobile App Technology and Strategic Meetings Management Programs. Our 350+ Associates manage over 11,000 meetings, conferences and events representing 3.88 million room nights annually for more than 2,500 customers. For more information, visit conferencedirect.com.

 

About the Code

The Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct, known as The Code, is the world’s first and only voluntary set of business principles that travel companies can implement to prevent child trafficking. The Code provides awareness, tools, and support to travel companies, with the aim of creating a highly aware and well-trained tourism industry that can recognize and prevent potential abuse. Since its launch in 2004, more than 40 US companies have joined the Code, including some of the world’s most notable airlines, hotels, and travel management companies. To learn more, visit ecpatusa.org/Code.

ECPAT-USA Highlights Work With Travel Sector At Congressional Briefing

 Photo: Helsinki Commission

Photo: Helsinki Commission

On May 7th, ECPAT-USA had the honor of being invited to speak at a joint congressional briefing entitled "Fighting Human Trafficking in Travel and Tourism: New Challenges and Solutions." The event was sponsored by the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the Congressional Trafficking Caucus.

For over 13 years, we have worked with the travel and tourism industries to help better protect children from exploitation. Through giving members of these industries the tools to identify and respond to situations of suspected child sex trafficking, we are better able to keep kids safe at hotels and airports. Together, we can stop trafficking in its tracks.

Read Executive Director Carol Smolenski’s full comments from the briefing below, or watch the livestream of the event.


Twenty-seven years ago, ECPAT began advocating for the protection of children from exploitation in the context of travel and tourism—a time when no one was talking about it. I am proud to say that we’ve seen tremendous progress since then.

Our first success was in 1994, when we worked to pass extra-territoriality laws that ensure US citizens traveling abroad and sexually abusing children in their destinations can be prosecuted in the United States. The law was significantly strengthened in 2003. This month, a Florida man, named David Lynch, was sentenced to 330 years in prison under these laws for exploiting several children in the Philippines.

The other big success has been the expansion of the Tourism Child Protection Code of Conduct. The Code was created by ECPAT in 1998 and introduced in North America in 2004. The Code is six voluntary steps that companies take to protect children from sexual exploitation. We launched The Code along side Carlson Companies. It took several years for other companies to follow suit but we are pleased that in 2011 Wyndham and Hilton both signed the Code.

Today, every large U.S. hotel chain has signed The Code: Besides the three mentioned above the others are Marriott, Choice, and Hyatt. These are six out of the 10 largest hotel chains in the world. Two of the largest domestic air carriers, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have also signed The Code.

One of the most important steps of The Code is staff training. Let me tell you a story about Benjamin, a hotel security director from Massachusetts. His hotel is so well trained that the minute a trafficker entered his property, they implemented their protocol, and his whole team knew what to do.  Raymond, the head of an international trafficking ring, who was later found to have sold children at 400 hotels before getting to Massachusetts, tried his luck at Ben’s hotel but he was stopped in his tracks. He brought two children to Ben’s hotel but instead of being abused, they were identified. And instead of Raymond walking free, he was sentenced to the maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

Spreading the word to hotel associates is crucial. In 2016, ECPAT-USA partnered with Marriott to expand online human trafficking training for their associates. The training is available through the American Hotel and Lodging Association and used by hotel brands across the industry. Marriott-branded hotels trained over 335,000 associates within 15 months of requiring the training. Imagine if all US hotel brands required training.

According to a 2017 nationwide survey of hotels initiated by ECPAT-USA and carried out by New York University Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, over half of U.S. hotels are trained to help prevent child sex trafficking. This is a tremendous development. ECPAT-USA’s full report about the impact of our work with the US hotel industry, “No Vacancy for Child Sex Traffickers,” is on our website.

While we have come so far, there is still a long way to go. In 2016, ECPAT published the results of a two-year Global Study on the Exploitation of Children in the Context of Travel and Tourism. The study’s 47 recommendations set the stage for the next phase of our work.

I am sharing copies of the executive summary and recommendations with you. One of the important recommendations calls for all businesses to ensure that corporate travel takes place with travel companies that adopt child protection policies, train and join ECPAT’s Code of Conduct. We are delighted about the new provisions introduced as part of the TVPRA by Congressman Smith, which call for U.S. federal employees to travel with companies incorporating anti-trafficking policies and training.

In addition, we are developing a new training for companies that manage corporate travel and events, supported by Carlson Wagonlit Travel and Maritz Travel, that will bring this information to travel managers at companies across the entire private sector, not just the travel industry. These efforts will save lives.

We met Jenny, a travel manager for a finance company who went to a client convention in Mexico hosted by Maritz Travel. There was an awareness session about human trafficking because business travelers may spot human trafficking in their travels. Jenny attended the session and at the airport on the way home she saw a woman with a plastic bag as luggage, she was disheveled— indicators from her session the day before— and something about the situation didn’t sit right with Jenny so she reported her suspicions. And she was right—the girl she saw was a human trafficking victim and she was rescued because of Jenny.

Of course, the sexual exploitation of children happens outside of the travel and tourism context. One of the fastest growing areas children are exploited is through the production of child sexual abuse imagery (commonly called child pornography). Most people are not aware of A. The vast extent of this problem: The Cyber Tipline received over 10.2 million reports in 2017. B. The young age of the children: The Internet Watch Foundation reported that 55% of the images were children 10 years or younger.  And C. The violence depicted. Content showing the rape and sexual torture of children, is up this year by 5%, from 28% of all content to 33%.

Soon, ECPAT-USA will issue a report with recommendations that include stronger background checks for anyone who comes in contact with children and more oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which registers website names, among others. It is a complex and growing industry that needs a range of responses including government regulations and oversight.

As we talk about our legislative priorities, let me thank all of the offices here on the House side that were involved in the successful passage of FOSTA-SESTA legislation. It was a hard won victory, and we appreciate your offices leading the charge in spite of opposition from the tech industry.   

On May 7th, ECPAT-USA had the honor of being invited to speak at a joint congressional briefing sponsored by Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the Congressional Trafficking Caucus entitled "Fighting Human Trafficking in Travel and Tourism: New Challenges and Solutions."

For over 13 years, we have worked with the travel and tourism industries to help better protect children from exploitation. Through giving members of these industries the tools to identify and respond to situations of suspected child sex trafficking, we are better able to keep kids safe at hotels and airports. Together, we can stop trafficking in its tracks.