Actually, I Felt "Punk'd." Ashton's Passion Will Not Help U.S. Anti-Trafficking Efforts

Human trafficking is a horrible problem that exists all over the world including right here in the United States. It’s a problem to which I’ve committed the last decade of my life; attempting to find practical solutions that might help eliminate the tremendous human and financial costs of the crime. And, if there is one thing upon which all of my talented and compassionate colleagues in the field of anti-trafficking will agree, it’s that there is not enough money to go around. We cannot do the things we need to do in order to end modern slavery because the funding is just not there. That’s why, when Senator Corker (R-TN) announced his bill, that would bring $1.5 billion in new investment to anti-trafficking efforts, it was hard for me to be anything but thankful. But, actually, I felt “Punk’d.”

Let me start with some background. The organization for which I work, Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, spends most of its time figuring out the best ways to prevent human trafficking and detecting it early enough, after it happens to children, that we can reduce the damage done by this crime. For us, that means prevention education in schools (including primary prevention for young people unaffected by the crime) and the training of educators and other professionals in our communities. This makes us all safer with knowledge helping insulate us from the problem bleeding over our borders. While prevention has been almost totally overlooked in terms of funding, law enforcement and victim service agencies, as well as non-profit organizations, that do intervention work, have nowhere near the resources they need to stem, let alone resolve, the problem of human trafficking here in the U.S.

That’s why U.S. policies regarding anti-trafficking funding have always perplexed me. (To my knowledge, I’ve never been “punk’d,” but I suspect that “perplexed” is an early stage in the whole process of getting “punk’d.”) In 2010, for instance, 78% of the taxpayer investment in anti-trafficking resources (or $85,270,083) went to initiatives that were being done internationally. Just 22% (or $24,247,700) of the 2010 funding stayed here in the U.S. (You’ll have to trust me on this one. The link to the State Department data, that I have used for the past few years, verifying the source of these numbers, has been deactivated. I believe that happened recently.) Of the $24 million domestic investment, none, that I could discern, went specifically to prevention education or any prevention-related initiatives. These kinds of ratios: international spending versus domestic spending and prevention versus intervention/victim services, continue today.

Like Ashton Kutcher, I feel very passionately for the victims of human trafficking in places like Cambodia, India and Eastern Europe. I believe it’s our responsibility, however, to prioritize the issue of domestic human trafficking and apply successful models overseas once we know they work. That’s why, when I learned that all of the funds raised for Senator Corker’s bill, the End Modern Slavery Initiative Act, $1,500,000,000, would be spent everywhere but here, I definitely felt “punk’d”!

Just to make sure it wasn’t all in my head, I consulted some experts at a K-8 school called, Palouse Prairie Charter School in Moscow, Idaho. Here’s what some students said:

“While I agree with Ashton Kutcher, I think that we need to revise this funding proposal to include the prevention of human trafficking here in the U.S. Eradicating human trafficking abroad is a worthy and sincere goal, but it may not be viewed as credible if we do not eradicate modern slavery in America as well." - Isabella Taylor

"If you are against human trafficking you should work to abolish it everywhere, not just outside of America." -Loren Forbes

"Preventing and abolishing human trafficking is definitely something that should be worked towards. However, we can’t just ignore or pretend that human trafficking is just happening in other countries. In the U.S., human trafficking is a major issue. It is important to recognize this so we can help people from other countries as well as U.S. citizens who are being trafficked. As a result, funds should also be put towards human trafficking in the U.S." - Julia Branen

At Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, we appreciate the great work being done by Senator Corker and by Ashton Kutcher, but, please, let’s revisit this bill.

For more information on prevention education and training, check out this California program that helps educate bright young people, like those quoted above, on the issue of human trafficking: PROTECT: Prevention Organized To Educate Children on Trafficking.

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