The U.S. State Department keeps track of the annual numbers of trafficking victims in each country throughout the world. The State Department not only keeps track of the victims found, but also the laws of preventing trafficking, protecting victims, and prosecuting traffickers. There are a number of countries that help, in various ways, protect trafficked victims from re-victimization, while other countries do nothing at all The United States is a Tier 1 country, which simply means the government fully complies with the minimum standards to eliminate human trafficking.[i] (The last blog post goes into greater detail on the Tier categories).
The U.S. has standards in place to protect victims of human trafficking. It created the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) to establish methods of not only protecting trafficked survivors, but also to prosecute traffickers and and prevent trafficking.[ii] The Act provides protections involving identifying victims, providing shelter and medical care, and repatriation.[iii] The Act authorizes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to permit a human trafficking victim to remain in the U.S.[iv] This is done through the T-Visa. This visa allows victims to become temporary residents that may allow them to become eligible for permanent residency after three years. [v]The TPVA also offers protections by making trafficked victims eligible for witness protection programs as well as other federal and state benefits to the same extent as refugees.[vi]
The TPVA also attempts to protect unknown victims of trafficking. The 2008 provisions of the Act require unaccompanied minor children to be screened as possible trafficking victims and to then be transferred within 48 hours to the custody of Health and Human Services.[vii] In other forms of protection, the U.S. has federally funded victim assistance case management. The case management includes referrals to resources such as: dental and medical care, employment and training services, substance abuse treatments, and many more, including advocacy.[viii] The funding for victim assistance was increased by the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). HHS enabled trafficking victims of other countries the same benefits as Refugees.[ix] In 2013, about $7.9 million dollars went to 19 victim services across the U.S..[x]
Even though the U.S. seems to do a lot, especially in funding victim services, there are non-governmental organizations (NGO) that still believe the government could do more. NGOs have concerns that the U.S. does not consistently take the victim-centered approach that it should.[xi] A victim-centered approach is an approach taken that “seeks to minimize re-traumatization associated with the criminal justice process by providing the support of victim advocates and service providers, empowering survivors as engaged participants in the process, and providing survivors an opportunity to play a role in seeing their traffickers.”[xii] There are also concerns that the employees that handle victims do not have proper training and guidance to provide the critical support that some victims need.[xiii]
Although the U.S. has things it could work on to better improve the protections offered to victims, there are other countries that do not do half of what the U.S. does. For instance, Cuba is a Tier 3 country and does not fully comply with the minimum standards of eliminating trafficking. The Cuban government has not officially reported on its protections of trafficked victims nor did it report the procedures it has in place to protect victims or guide officials in identifying victims. However, the government does have shelters for victims, although it does not keep track or verify that the victims actually receive any kind of assistance for treatment.[xiv] Recommendations for Cuba consist of: strengthening its efforts to provide special training for police and social workers to protect trafficked victims, build clear procedures on identifying victims, and continue funding victim-centered practices.[xv]
It is reported that Cuba does not comply with the minimum standards because the government is involved in human trafficking.[xvi] Cuba has offered its opinion in statements stating that this is not happening within its government. However, these statements come from very biased individuals. Cuba has been a Tier 3 country for the last twelve years and continues to not comply with standards. Although Cuba is just one of many countries that are considered a Tier 3 country, it is always difficult to tell if these countries fall in this category by choice or because they do not have the means to be able to rise out its condition. Cuba continues to tell the U.S. government that it will do better year after year, however it is never shown in their reports.
Another example is Cambodia. Cambodia was placed on the Tier 2 Watch List.[xvii] According to the State Department, Cambodia’s government has procedures in place to identify victims and refer them to NGOs. However, Cambodia is on the Tier 2 Watch List because the amount of victims identified continues to decline.[xviii] Cambodia has government operated shelters to take in victims of trafficking, but once the victims arrive, the government has very little to do with further assisting them.[xix] The majority of assistance given to trafficked victims (medical, legal, shelter, and vocational services) in Cambodia is administered by NGOs in Cambodia, instead of the Cambodian government.[xx] However, there have been reports that some NGO shelters subject their victims to even more abuse and that they cannot provide the victims adequate care.[xxi] The Cambodian government has no policy in place that allows trafficked victims to stay in the country. Victims that come from other countries are sent back to their home country without any legal alternatives.[xxii] Recommendations for Cambodia would be to create legal practices that first involve keeping victims from being returned to the county they were originally trafficked from. Another recommendation would be to give employees of shelters a practical training on how to deal with trafficked victims, as well as hire people whom are willing to help instead of re-traumatize victims. A third recommendation would be for the government to be more involved in the protection of trafficked victims instead of identifying them and completely handing them over to NGOs.
Overall, although human trafficking is a huge issue no matter what country is being discussed, it does not go unseen. Regardless of the Tier, each country has some kind of issue in trafficking. However, the important thing is that something is being done to resolve and prevent the issue from happening. Also, this proves that just because a country is considered a Tier 1 country, does not mean that they cannot improve on ways to protect victims. However, Tier 1 countries such as the U.S., are considered to have the best practices such as shelter, medical care, and other assistance that aims to keep victims safe and free from being re-trafficked, and it should be required that all countries find a way to implement the same kind of practices.
Raiven Taylor is third year law student at the University of Baltimiore School of Law and is completing her concentration in International Law. She has an undergraduate degree in Political Science from Bowie State University. She has studied abroad in London, England and Clermond-Ferrand, France. She is an Senior Staff Editor for the Journal for International Law as well as Secretary for the International Law Society. Additionally, Raiven is a Rule 16 student attorney in the Immigrant Rights Clinic. Her passion and interest in international law is human trafficking and international human rights law.