Human Trafficking: Are We Effectively Reaching Victims?

By Holly Smith — From her column in the Huffington Post

In two recent articles I addressed imagery in advocacy efforts against human trafficking. In the first article, I discussed negative effects from the overuse of images that portray violence in child sex trafficking. In the second article, I addressed the overwhelming objectification of victims. In my online research, I was surprised to find very few campaigns directed at victim outreach efforts.


One such campaign from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) uses an image on billboards to promote the NHTRC hotline to potential victims. The image depicts a female dressed promiscuously and leaning into a car window possibly engaging with a buyer of commercial sex. “I like it because it’s real,” says Tanya Street, a survivor of sex trafficking and Founder of Identifiable Me. I agree with Tanya — this image captures exactly what I looked like as a so-called “willing victim”, a term which I discuss in my book, Walking Prey: How America’s Youth are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery. I think this image would have resonated with me had I seen it in Atlantic City, N.J.

Read the rest of the article on the Huffington Post website

Congress: Please Remove Controversial Pieces From Human Trafficking Legislation

By Holly Smith — From her column in the Huffington Post

The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA) has recently stalled due to a provision which expands the Hyde Amendment — a rider that restricts federal funding for abortion and other health care services. The JVTA is one of three bills on which I testified last month in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing; the other two being the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act (SETTA) and the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act.

The SETTA and the JVTA both had bipartisan support and passed unanimously out of the Judiciary Committee. As I stated in my congressional testimony, had there been bills like these in 1992, I might have immediately been recognized by law enforcement as a victim of child sex trafficking, not a criminal.

When I was 14 years old, I was lured away from home by a man I had met at a local shopping mall in New Jersey. Within hours of leaving home, this man ordered and coerced me into prostitution in Atlantic City, NJ. The following night I was arrested by law enforcement and treated like a juvenile delinquent. Had there been a JVTA intact, perhaps I would have been assigned to a victim’s advocate to accompany me through the process of cooperating with and providing testimony to detectives.

Read the rest of the article on the Huffington Post website

Human Trafficking in the United States: Protecting the Victims, Congressional Testimony

Photo of Nikolaos Al-Khadra taken by Amy Green, Survivors Consultation Network

Last week, I had the honor of speaking before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of two bills addressing human trafficking: the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act and the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act. I was able to share my personal story and stress the need for laws that better protect victims of human trafficking. As I state in my testimony, had these bills been passed before 1992 perhaps law enforcement would have immediately recognized that I was a victim, not a criminal. Perhaps funds from the proposed Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund could have enabled me to immediately enter effective aftercare treatment and remain there until I fully understood that what had happened to me was not my fault. Perhaps my healing process could have been easier, faster. And perhaps my family and I could have had an easier transition. Even though these protections weren’t available to me, they can be made available to victims today. With effective and well-informed legislation and services, victims can heal, overcome, and achieve their greatest dreams and highest potential.

Without effective support and services in place, however, it may be difficult for victims to move forward. Child victims may return to exploitative situations or they may be returned to abusive or neglectful situations from which they had originally run. While youth may escape juvenile detention, they might not escape continued abuse or sexual exploitation. This is particularly true in states implementing safe harbor protections where law enforcement cannot adequately respond without well-resourced service providers trained to work with child victims of commercial sexual exploitation. This is why I encourage legislators to include provisions that authorize resources for services for all victims of human trafficking and child exploitation – girls, boys, men, and women.

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