Human trafficking is modern day slavery

Published 8:51 am Tuesday, July 25, 2023

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Human trafficking received increased national attention this month as millions of Americans watched in horror as the abuse that victims face played out on the big screen. Current estimates place the number of human trafficking victims at 28 million, far beyond what most Americans considered possible. While many of our friends and neighbors may perceive human trafficking to be an overblown third-world phenomenon, in reality the modern day slave trade is very real – and very pervasive – right here at home.
In fiscal year 2022, agencies within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) helped 765 human trafficking victims and made 3,655 trafficking-related arrests. As of 2022, the DHS had allocated more than $60 million to combating human smuggling and sent over 1,300 personnel to the Southwest border and Latin America to aid in this effort.
State and local officials, advocates, and even corporate America are also joining forces to tackle this threat. Some hospitals have set up programs to help their workers spot signs of human trafficking and help suspected victims. Delta Airlines has trained thousands of its employees to identify the signs of human trafficking. I am particularly grateful for the organizations in the Volunteer State that are taking action to save as many victims as they can. In 2021, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received 525 reports from good Samaritans concerned about potential trafficking. In the end, 152 cases involving 217 victims were identified. Lives are saved every year thanks to this crucial hotline, and these reports will only become more important as trafficking rings gain power. In East Tennessee, one nonprofit reports they are on track to see a record number of human trafficking cases this year.
There is a reason this topic is gaining broad public interest: seeing the faces attached to the stories they hear on the news has made the American people realize that there must be more we can do to stop this horrific crime.
Combating human trafficking is one of my top priorities. This year I introduced the SAVE Girls Act to crack down on these unconscionable criminal enterprises. This bill establishes a $50 million grant program for states, localities, and NGOs that work to prevent the smuggling and trafficking of young women and girls. And last month, I re-introduced my End Child Trafficking Now Act, which would crack down on the practice of “child recycling” by mandating DNA tests for migrants coming across the border with children. My bill would require up to a 10-year prison sentence for any person who lies about their familial relationship with a minor. Illegal immigrants are exploiting children to game the system, and we must act to stop them.
We must also work with our friends and partners abroad. In Ukraine, Vladimir Putin’s cronies have kidnapped an estimated 16,000 Ukrainian children and taken them to Russian-controlled territory. That is why last year, I led five of my Republican Senate colleagues in demanding the United Nations conduct a full investigation into the whereabouts of these children.
It’s critical that we raise awareness of the scourge of human trafficking. It is a horrific crime that often goes unnoticed, and it almost never receives the media attention it deserves. Americans are realizing that this is not an issue from which they are far removed; instead, it is a growing problem that directly threatens their communities. By coming together on a bipartisan basis, Congress can support the ongoing efforts in Tennessee and across the country to help relegate this modern day slave trade to the dustbin of history.
(Marsha Blackburn represents Tennessee in the U.S. Senate)

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