Lantos Commission Holds Human Trafficking Hearing

March 25, 2010 Updated: March 25, 2010

There may be as many as 27 million people in slavery today, according to a 2007 report by the Department of State (DOS). The House of Representatives's Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a hearing on the topic on March 25.

The Polaris Project—one of the largest anti-trafficking organizations in the United States—explains that human trafficking is a “market-based economy that exists on principles of supply and demand.” Human trafficking thrives because conditions enable, “high profits to be generated at low risk.” Polaris reports that the global trafficking industry makes as much as $32 billion each year in total profits. Incidents of trafficking have been documented in every state in the country, and 161 countries are affected by trafficking, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

According to the same DOS report, 80 percent of transnational trafficking victims are women and girls.

Speaking at Thursday’s hearing was Dallas Jessup, an 18-year-old activist and executive director of Just Yell Fire, a nonprofit that teaches young women how to avoid and defend against predators and traffickers. Jessup has traveled around the world speaking on the issue and teaching teenagers skills to prevent them from getting caught.

At one of her sessions in India, 20,000 girls showed up to learn the self-defense skills Jessup teaches. In her prepared testimony for Thursday’s hearing, she said that in India law enforcement is minimal and abducted girls can be sold for $1,000 to $15,000.

She said that armed with easy to learn street-fighting and avoidance tactics, “the teenage girl becomes the most effective weapon against the traffickers. Police can’t be everywhere, nor can parents—so it’s up to us girls to fight this war.”

In 2006, with the support of a professional movie crew, Jessup produced a 46-minute film to teach girls get-away tactics and basic street-fighting techniques.

Jessup stated that the work became one of the 10 most-downloaded production-length films worldwide; 10 percent of downloads came from Iran, Pakistan, and other countries with similar records for women's rights.

Jessup encouraged the commission to push for self-defense classes for young women in the United States, “Substitute self defense for dodge ball in America’s schools and you change the world,” she said.