Experts, a former victim, and some anti-trafficking groups said they are encouraged by the administration’s executive order aimed at eliminating human trafficking, describing it as a “historical collaboration” between federal agencies, and one of the “more comprehensive” actions taken by the White House to date.
The directive, signed into law by President Donald Trump on Jan. 31, sets into motion a wide range of actions. The order “on combating human trafficking and online child exploitation in the United States” broadly prioritizes “resources to vigorously prosecute offenders, to assist victims, and to provide prevention education to combat human trafficking and online sexual exploitation of children.”
Much of the order is broken down into “prosecution, protection, and prevention,” a senior administration official said in a Jan. 31 conference call with reporters. Prosecuting traffickers and buyers as well as cracking down on child pornography are both highlighted as key points of the directive.
In interviews with The Epoch Times, four anti-trafficking groups and other experts, some who attended the White House summit last week and who have worked with the administration on combating the problem, said the order rightly tackles a number of key areas needed to combat trafficking, as they relate to primary prevention methods.
Many described trafficking as a business operation utilizing supply and demand, and said buyers should also be held accountable for contributing to the problem.
One of the major orders was the creation of a new White House position dedicated solely to combating trafficking. That position will be part of the Domestic Policy Council, and the candidate would work with the Executive Office of the President, including the Office of Economic Initiatives and the National Security Council.
A White House spokesperson declined to comment to The Epoch Times about whether a short list for the role has been created.
Kevin Malone, president of the United States Institute Against Human Trafficking and a member of Trump’s Public-Private Partnership Advisory Council to End Human Trafficking, said his organization has worked with the administration since April 2017, and helped advocate for the new anti-trafficking position to be opened up.
“We’re probably looking at a couple of months before that position is filled,” Malone told The Epoch Times, noting that he doesn’t have direct knowledge of any internal White House decisions. “This position that the president has created will be a major game-changer in the fight against domestic human trafficking.”
Other major actions in the directive include the expansion of housing options for victims of trafficking, increasing prevention education programs for the country’s youth within the applicable laws, and improving the detection of real-time sharing of child sexual abuse material on the internet. At the signing, Trump declared his administration as “100 percent committed to eradicating human trafficking from the earth.”
Samantha Vardaman, vice president of Shared Hope International, a nonprofit anti-trafficking organization, was one of many other groups attending the summit last week. She said the mood at the event was “very positive” and that she was encouraged to see that one of the focuses was targeting online material.
“The focus on online exploitation is absolutely essential,” she told The Epoch Times. “We’re drowning in online child sex abuse images. When the technology companies won’t voluntarily self-regulate them, we need government to do something.”
Vardaman said the time to take action against abuse on the internet is now, citing the threat of end-to-end encryption that major technology companies are moving toward.
In addition, Attorney General William Barr, in collaboration with the Secretary of Labor and the Secretary of Homeland Security, will “improve interagency coordination with respect to targeting traffickers, determining threat assessments, and sharing law enforcement intelligence to build on the administration’s commitment to the continued success of ongoing anti-trafficking enforcement initiatives.”
Trump has often spoken publicly about combating human trafficking. He signed the order upon the conclusion of a White House summit on the issue while surrounded by officials, members of Congress, and trafficking survivors.
According to the White House, 24.9 million people around the world and in the United States, both adults and children, are trapped in some form of human trafficking. About 1 in 800 people in the United States are living in “modern slavery,” according to 2018 data by the Walk Free Foundation. The phrase is a broad term used to describe victims of forced labor, sexual exploitation or servitude, and forced marriages, among numerous other abuses.
Darrin Giglio, a former Marine who has also worked for the U.S. Secret Service, told The Epoch Times that one of the noteworthy factors of the White House event was the announcement by Ivanka Trump of an additional $42 million in funding dedicated to prosecuting traffickers and supporting victims in 2021.
“Human trafficking syndicates often operate on a global level, and it’s very costly to cast a net that large,” said Giglio, who is now the chief investigator at North American Investigations, a licensed New York private investigation agency. “The additional resources will be very helpful and should lead to an increase in prosecutions.”
Ivanka Trump confirmed the additional funding in her remarks at the summit. The president is expected to announce the proposed budget increase for 2021 sometime this month.
In fiscal 2016, there were 531 human trafficking prosecutions, Giglio added via email. In fiscal 2019, there were 343.
“This order should help get that number back up,” he said.
Vardaman said traffickers are often willing to take a risk because the risk of getting caught is low.
“We don’t have the resources that we need to make it a higher-risk crime,” she said. “There’s a real need for that money, both to investigate and prosecute, but also to help to restore and provide the long-term services that victims need.”
The administration’s more aggressive prosecutorial approach is vital in tackling the root cause of the problem, by reducing demand and prosecuting obscenity, according to Jake Roberson, director of communications for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.
“There’s just so much evidence that obscenity and hardcore pornography is a huge part of the demand element,” Roberson told The Epoch Times. “We’ve seen this explosion since the Department of Justice began rolling back obscenity prosecutions during the Clinton administration.”
“We’ve seen a huge core correlation with the rise of obscenity and then the rise from that of child sexual abuse material and the proliferation there. It spills over into the rise and the hidden problem that we’ve got with human trafficking.”
Heads of executive departments and appropriate agencies, including Barr and the Secretary of Homeland Security, were also tasked to propose to Trump, within 180 days, “legislative and executive actions that would overcome information-sharing challenges and improve law enforcement’s capabilities” to eliminate child pornography.
The State Department is also tasked with creating a website containing resources to combat, identify, and report instances of human trafficking, as well as to protect and support victims. A senior administration official said the site will be a central government website, describing it as a “one-stop shop for the public to be able to go and see all of the federal government’s resources on human trafficking, including public outreach and training.”
The administration is also creating a working group to “find better ways to locate missing children, such as children in foster care that tend to be vulnerable to human trafficking and child exploitation,” the official said.
The director of faith-based anti-trafficking group One More Child—which meets the needs of foster and trafficked children, as well as struggling families—said the expansion of housing options for survivors was “monumental” and praised the approach of “bringing together governmental agencies, along with nonprofits and direct service providers.”
“For survivors, it aids recidivism when there’s a lack of housing,” Christa Lynn, the executive director of the group, told The Epoch Times. “I love that they’re addressing the need to more aggressively prosecute traffickers, and again, that they’re doing it through the collaborative approach is very important.”
The Secretary of Health and Human Services, with the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was tasked with creating an internal working group that would strategize ways for “faith-based and other community organizations to expand housing options for victims of human trafficking,” as well as involving other levels of government.
Meanwhile, some anti-trafficking groups boycotted the White House trafficking event last week, saying the administration hasn’t done enough to help immigrant trafficking victims.
Power of Faith
Lynn herself is a former victim of sex-trafficking, who gained freedom from the industry and is now a certified clinical trauma professional. Her mother was also a victim of trafficking, and Lynn said she grew up living a “life of vulnerability” and poverty. She said she saw her parents abuse drugs, and there was domestic violence at times.
“You take all of these childhood vulnerabilities, and it’s no surprise that at 13, I would be raped for the first time,” she said. “By 15, I had already been bouncing around in non-familial placements, and ended up a few weeks homeless here and there.”
At another time in her life, Lynn said a trafficker posed as a boyfriend and convinced her to come to his house to be safe and live there. She said the day she arrived, “he took everything I owned and held me.” She was held captive in the man’s house for about two and half months.
During other instances, Lynn said she was also a victim of labor trafficking for a couple of weeks. Her vulnerable childhood, she said, led her to develop a severe drug addiction.
“Through the drug addiction at 24, I would be trafficked for another, like, two to three days again, I was highly on drugs,” she said.
At 27 years old, Lynn had a daughter, which she said sparked the “first hope.” At 29, she wound up in prison, and it was there she first found her faith. She said learning about God gave her new hope she had never felt before in her life.
As time went on, she found mentors and joined a Christian community, obtained an education, and learned how to be a mother, before she joined the faith-based group One More Child. She said that due to her experience, she knows how important it is to target traffickers and buyers.