Today, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) launched the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking with celebrity advocate Jada Pinkett Smith, founder of Don't Sell Bodies, as well as two survivors of human trafficking: Minh Dang, a doctoral student, and Withelma "T" Ortiz, a college student. The caucus will provide a forum for senators to come together to combat human trafficking by promoting awareness, removing demand, supporting prosecution efforts, and providing appropriate service systems for survivors.
According to reports from the U.S. State Department, human trafficking occurs in every state in the nation. Among the thousands of cases opened by the U.S. Department of Justice between 2008 and 2010, 83 percent of the victims were U.S. citizens. Additionally, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited children, 100 to 200 thousand of the sex workers across the United States are trafficked children.
Blumenthal said, "Human trafficking is modern-day slavery -- a horrific crime that occurs across the world and the nation. According to anti-trafficking groups, 27 million people are held captive in human trafficking networks around the world, and approximately 17 thousand of them cross the border into the U.S. every year. Current law prohibiting human trafficking is insufficient and fails to adequately prevent or punish such abuses -- particularly as it relates to government contracting overseas. I look forward to working with Senator Portman on this issue. This caucus is an invaluable tool that will help to foster bipartisan policy solutions to this pernicious problem."
"For almost a year now, Senator Blumenthal and I have been advancing a plan to help end human trafficking. As co-chairs of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, we will augment our legislative efforts and highlight the need to improve both prevention and detection of severely coercive and exploitative labor practice," Portman said. "Our bipartisan Ending Trafficking in Government Contracting Act, which was passed by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee in June, would enhance existing protections against trafficking in connection with overseas government contractors. Although the overwhelming majority of U.S. contractors are honorable and law-abiding, a number of government reports have highlighted a need to better protect against exploitative labor practices that violate the values Americans hold dear. I am hopeful that our legislation combined with the efforts of the Caucus would do just that."
"The formation of the Senate Human Trafficking Caucus signals a major step in our movement to end modern slavery," said Luke Blocher, Director of Strategic Initiatives at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. "The leadership of Senators Portman and Blumenthal will no doubt elevate this critical, and complicated, issue to the forefront of national policy. Perhaps even more importantly, the Caucus provides a legislative platform at exactly the time when the growing movement of anti-trafficking organizations most need a place to share learning and coordinate policy-making. This cause has been taken up across Ohio and the nation, and the efforts of the Freedom Center and many others to spread awareness, inspire activism, and demand change will benefit greatly from this national stage and the leadership of Senators Portman and Blumenthal."
In June, Blumenthal and Portman's bipartisan Ending Trafficking in Government Contracting Act was passed by the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee by voice vote. The act seeks to end human trafficking by federal government contractors and subcontractors operating overseas by enhancing prevention, accountability, and enforcement. As co-chairs of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, Blumenthal and Portman will continue to bring more attention to this problem and use this new avenue to advance a plan to halt human trafficking.