Message From the Secretary of State

Dear Reader:

Antony J. Blinken 

This year’s Trafficking in Persons Report sends a strong message to the world that global crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and enduring discriminatory policies and practices, have a disproportionate effect on individuals already oppressed by other injustices.  These challenges further compound existing vulnerabilities to exploitation, including human trafficking.  We must break this inhumane cycle of discrimination and injustices if we hope to one day eliminate human trafficking.

The U.S. Department of State strives to advance around the world the security, prosperity, and values that U.S. citizens share.  We know recent events have led our country to grapple with unequal treatment and racism here at home that has reverberated around the world.  As a government and society, we strive to correct past wrongs and advance racial equity in the United States and abroad.  We commit to bringing this dedication to our efforts to fight human trafficking as well.  We will seek to use our year-round engagement with governments, advocates, and the private sector to build a more effective anti-trafficking strategy rooted in equity.  This must include coming to terms with our role in having perpetuated violence and dehumanized people, and we must work to right these past wrongs.

Systemic discrimination creates inequities between communities, whether the discrimination targets perceptions of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, or any other social identities.  It manifests in societal exclusion and prejudices against those communities, which help perpetuate an imbalance of opportunity and support.  These inequities undercut our goal of combating human trafficking and embolden traffickers. We have seen, for instance, how deeply held racial biases and stereotypes inappropriately influence outcomes for those in our criminal justice system as they lead to racially disparate assumptions about who is identified as a trafficker and who is identified as a victim.  This is not a new truth, but it is a somber, unacceptable reality.

Through this report, we call on governments to join the United States in improving our collective efforts to comprehensively address human trafficking.  Doing so requires us to mitigate harmful practices and policies that cause socioeconomic or political vulnerabilities that traffickers often prey on.  Part of this work requires us to acknowledge we will never be able to understand the full scope of what is needed without the expertise of those affected by systemic inequality.  Representation and diversity of experience and thought matter.  Therefore governments, including the United States, must foster an inclusive environment that allows for a thriving, diverse workforce at all levels.

I have said before, building a “more perfect union” is both an acknowledgement of our imperfection and a commitment to continue striving toward progress in a transparent way.  I believe that is true here.  I look forward to the work ahead, knowing there is much still to accomplish, and we will be more successful when we work together to achieve the goals of combating human trafficking and creating a more fair, equitable world.

Sincerely,
Antony Blinken

Message From the Acting Director

Dear Reader:

Kari Johnstone 

If there is one thing we have learned in the last year, it is that human trafficking does not stop during a pandemic.  The concurrence of the increased number of individuals at risk, traffickers’ ability to capitalize on competing crises, and the diversion of resources to pandemic response efforts has resulted in an ideal environment for human trafficking to flourish and evolve. Yet, despite the added challenges and risks that the pandemic has presented, we have also witnessed the adaptability among those continuing to combat human trafficking and their dedication to ensuring the continuation of anti-trafficking efforts to minimize the effects of the pandemic on victims and the broader anti-trafficking community.  This year, the TIP Report introduction examines the emerging trends, challenges, and adaptations to global anti-trafficking efforts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With this year’s Report we celebrate the efforts of anti-trafficking professionals who continued to serve and identify victims as well as prosecute traffickers amidst the pandemic’s devastating effects on the world’s most vulnerable populations.  We salute the survivor leaders––those with lived experience of human trafficking––who have demonstrated resilience and reaffirm that employing trauma- and survivor-informed approaches is essential, crisis or not.  While acknowledging these leaders, we recognize that many of us have also been touched by trauma, whether through loss of a loved one, our own illness, or dealing with large-scale lockdowns and extreme uncertainty.  A trauma-informed approach is needed now more than ever.  We must ensure that our commitment to victim-centered and trauma- and survivor-informed approaches when serving victims and survivors is uninterrupted.  We must also extend this approach to our interactions with our colleagues throughout the anti-trafficking field.

While hopeful that we’re turning the corner on the pandemic, we know that different countries are at different stages in their pandemic response and recovery.  We call on governments and anti-trafficking actors to draw inspiration from the innovation and leadership this Report highlights to continue and improve the response to combat trafficking even amidst the necessary recovery efforts.  We should also consider the lessons learned over the course of this global health crisis.  It is through collaboration and collective understanding of both the nuances of our profoundly changed world and the needs of those affected most by the compounding effects of both human trafficking and the COVID-19 pandemic that a path forward emerges.

I look forward to once again engaging in-person with government counterparts, NGO representatives, and individuals with lived experience to continue the two decades of progress that was celebrated and recognized last year in the twentieth TIP Report.  Through collaboration, learning, and embracing innovation, I am confident that global anti-trafficking efforts will emerge stronger than ever.

Sincerely,
Kari Johnstone

Human Trafficking in the Context of a Global Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is a health crisis with unprecedented repercussions for human rights and economic development globally, including in human trafficking. COVID-19 generated conditions that increased the number of people who experienced vulnerabilities to human trafficking and interrupted existing and planned anti-trafficking interventions. Governments across the world diverted resources toward the pandemic, often at the expense of anti-trafficking efforts, resulting in decreased protection measures and service provision for victims, reduction of preventative efforts, and hindrances to investigations and prosecutions of traffickers. At the same time, human traffickers quickly adapted to capitalize on the vulnerabilities exposed and exacerbated by the pandemic.

Despite the significant disruptions to efforts to combat this crime, the anti-trafficking community found ways to adapt and forged new relationships to overcome the challenges. Some governments and organizations conducted in-depth assessments to identify the changing trends. Others leveraged technology to drive innovative solutions. Many aligned policies and practices to current realities. Nonetheless, the challenges uncovered by COVID-19 are monumental and may be long lasting, requiring sustained collaboration among governments, civil society organizations, private sector leaders, survivor leaders, and other anti-trafficking actors to adjust and respond aptly to overcome these challenges. As a result, this year’s TIP Report introduction highlights human trafficking issues related to COVID-19, with special focus on how anti-trafficking stakeholders adapted in rapidly changing environments. It reflects on the lessons learned from practitioners and offers considerations to rebuild momentum through coordinated anti-trafficking strategies. The introduction also illustrates collaborative ways to reimagine anti-trafficking efforts with an emphasis on preparedness to prevent compounding effects of future crises on trafficking victims and vulnerable individuals, as well as efforts to combat the most recent emerging human trafficking trends.

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