By Sarah Davis, HTC associate
The level of protection afforded to victims of human trafficking in the United States has the potential to improve in the coming years. In January, the federal government released the Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States 2013-2017, a promising supplement to the current efforts to combat trafficking. On the whole, the Human Trafficking Center is impressed by the goals set forth in this plan.
This five-year, inter-agency plan intends to “further [strengthen] coordination, collaboration, and capacity across governmental and nongovernmental entities dedicated to providing support to the victims of human trafficking.” The 15 different federal agencies involved in its creation sought the input of community organizations to “create a victim services network that is comprehensive, trauma-informed, and responsive to the needs of all victims.”
This is the first time the U.S. government has released a tangible plan with the intention of creating a “task force to monitor and combat human trafficking” in the United States. It is a living document and subject to updates and modifications every five years with the hope of holding participating agencies accountable.
There are specific aspects of the plan that coincide with the objectives of the HTC that are worth highlighting:
“Promote a strategic, coordinated approach to the provision of services for victims of human trafficking” (pg. 11).
This goal highlights the necessity of “identifying promising practices” within the anti-human trafficking field (pg. 14). One way this is promoted is through the “[development] and [promotion] of standard terminology” for the anti-human trafficking community (pg. 15). The HTC agrees the lack of standardized definitions in the field inhibits the proper evaluation of promising practices, which is why we developed our taxonomy database in an effort to cut through the rhetoric surrounding human trafficking.
“Expand and coordinate human trafficking-related research, data and evaluation to support evidence-based practices in victim services” (pg. 18).
One of the HTC’s primary objectives is to advocate for sound, verifiable statistics in the human trafficking field. By acknowledging the gap between available resources and efforts to improve data collection, the Plan provides opportunities for institutions like the HTC to provide relevant, research-based information to those working directly with survivors. The HTC’s research efforts seek to address the present gaps within anti-trafficking research, increase the presence of controlled evaluations of counter-trafficking policies and forecast future trends and vulnerabilities to trafficking. This will be a valuable tool for service providers wishing to improve victim services.
“Provide and promote outreach, training and technical assistance to increase victim identification and expand the availability of services” (pg. 24).
As a graduate-level research program, the HTC is committed to informing and promoting effective, evidence-based anti-trafficking policy. This is done through analysis of design, implementation and effectiveness of legislation. In an attempt to promote sound research at the local, national and international levels, the HTC hopes to collaborate and work with law enforcement, policy official groups, civic organizations and academic institutions to generate and disseminate helpful information about human trafficking to the public.
Despite its strengths, no plan is without flaws. Since it is not a legislative act, there are no enforcement mechanisms in place for those agencies involved. Although this document does require agencies to undergo evaluation every five years, their punishment for failures may likely amount to nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
This Plan demonstrates to the American public that the federal government is acutely aware of the need for improved services for survivors of human trafficking and is willing to address the problem through a holistic, comprehensive plan. Increased presence of public support will enhance effective implementation of these action steps. We encourage you to ask your representatives what your state is doing to comply with the Plan to signal that the American public wants improved services for survivors of human trafficking. This might encourage officials to stay committed to the Plan not only for the next five years, but for many more to come.