No One Should Be for Sale

Dr. Rochelle RollinsFor most of my federal career, portraits of Harriet Tubman and Ida B. Wells have hung on my wall. These "s/heroes" remind me that freedom is precious and vulnerable populations need targeted attention, protection, and assistance. I am honored to work with abolitionists in the public and private sectors to end human trafficking, also known as modern-day slavery.

Human trafficking is the insidious, widespread, and profitable crime of forcing, tricking, or coercing a person into labor services or a commercial sex act. Additionally, any child under 18 in the commercial sex industry is a victim of sex trafficking, regardless of the presence of force, fraud, or coercion. Enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 makes these crimes a violation of federal law. Most at risk are the girls, boys, men, and women who are vulnerable because of their life circumstances (e.g., involvement in foster care or criminal justice systems, homelessness, poverty, or debt bondage).

President Obama has declared January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, calling on the nation to bring an end to those who are locked in compelled service and stripped of their human rights. Organizations across the country are holding anti-trafficking events and sharing ways for professionals and everyday citizens to learn more and do more to prevent human trafficking and help survivors. For example, the American Psychological Association recently released a Report of the Task Force on Trafficking of Women and Girls to raise awareness and make recommendations.

On the federal level, much is being done to combat all forms of human trafficking. One powerful organizing tool is the first-ever Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States, 2013—2017. This five-year plan strengthens the country's ability to help victims through greater coordination, collaboration, and capacity. The Plan's 250 actions are being implemented, tracked, and reported to the President's Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking.

One specific action being taken by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will enhance the health care system's response to human trafficking. In September 2014, with support from HHS' Office on Women's Health, the HHS Administration for Children and Families piloted the SOAR to Health and Wellness training initiative for health care professionals. SOAR asks health care professionals to "Stop, Observe, Ask, and Respond" to human trafficking by considering, "Who is in your waiting room?" Providers also learned the risk factors and signs of trafficking and how to identify resources for victims.

Awareness is the first step towards action. With more than 20 million people in modern slavery around the world, I urge every person in every profession to learn more about human trafficking, because as the President states, "our people and our children are not for sale."

To learn more about human trafficking and federal efforts to prevent and combat it, visit End Trafficking and SOAR to Health and Wellness. If you suspect you have come into contact with a victim of human trafficking, go to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center or call 888-373-7888.

How victims are trafficked

Force — Traumatizing a victim through rape, beatings, or confinement.

Fraud — Making false offers to induce a victim into an exploitive situation.

Coercion — Persuading a victim to believe the failure to perform an act would result in serious harm to the victim or their family.