By
Melissa Harris Perry
updated 2/1/2013 3:15:47 PM ET 2013-02-01T20:15:47

This January marked not only the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, but also the third annual National Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month.

This January marked not only the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, but also the third annual National Slavery & Human Trafficking Prevention Month. The presidential proclamation began in 2011 as a way for the administration and human rights  groups to raise awareness of what President Obama has called “a crime that amounts to modern-day slavery.

There are more people living in bondage today than at any other time in human history.  The market value of a trafficked human life has decreased from the equivalent of  $40,000 in today’s dollars in the mid-nineteenth century American South, to about $90 today. The number of human trafficking cases in the U.S. has more than doubled since 2007, according to the FBI.

Trafficking comes in many different forms and its victims are men or women, adults or children. Popular media’s depictions of trafficking most frequently depict women in the sex trade, as in the films Taken and Taken 2, Russian strippers in the most recent season of Showtime’s Dexter, and numerous cases featured in the 14 seasons of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.

But trafficking isn’t always for sexual purposes, and noncitizens are more frequently victims of labor trafficking than citizens. Meanwhile, more U.S. citizens, both children and adults, are found in sex trafficking.

One of the first and most famous prosecutions of modern slavery occurred in 1990, in which 56 deaf or hearing-impaired Mexicans who had emigrated to the U.S. were forced to beg and sell trinkets in New York CityLuis CdeBaca, who now works at the State Department as the Ambassador-at-large in the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, prosecuted the New York City case.

Ambassador CdeBaca spoke Monday in New York at the launch of VSconfronts.org, a digital platform for anti-trafficking organizations and advocates to work together to combat trafficking. CdeBaca emphasized that trafficking happens everywhere:

“It is the maid who studies the Indonesian-English dictionary every night so she can write a note and throw it over the fence… It is the man who joins a fishing boat for the promise of work and decent wages, but is forced to work 20 hours a day, beaten, and raped so you can buy white fish and squid at Whole Foods… it is the young girl who is told by a man, ‘I’ll help you become a model’ or even just, ‘I love you.’”

As many as 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year, and some estimate that as many as 100,000 citizen children are victims of trafficking in the U.S. In spite of the large numbers and wide range of victims, there are only 519 safe beds availabe in the entire United States.

Safe houses contend with problems housing victims of different kinds of  trafficking: For example, women who have been sexually exploited cannot be housed with men who are victims of forced labor.  The same occurs when working with children in safe houses who need to be distanced from adults following abuse.

Each type of slavery also brings specific attendant health problems; forced laborers tend to have untreated physical injuries, while sex workers are much more likely to simultaneously be dealing with STDs and drug addiction.

VSconfronts.org is just one way to raise awareness and is working to offer a bottom-up approach to legislation and reforms, something congress took a step away from when it failed to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Reuathorization Act in 2012. While the law has remained on the books since it expired in September 2011, Congress is not compelled to fund any of TVPA’s programs, resources, or task forces. Once again, our government has ignored the voices of those in bondage.

Video: Fighting sex trafficking in the Internet Age

  1. Closed captioning of: Fighting sex trafficking in the Internet Age

    >>> 2342010, a group commissioned a survey of men who admit today buying sex online. the results were staggering. an estimated 7,200 men purchasing adolescent girls for sex every month. that was just in the state of georgia . it was a reflection of the way that technology has transformed the child sex trade. it's gone from the streets to online. at the center of it all is the classified website, back page.com, where advocates claim underage dpirls are regularly trafficked for sex. until recently, it was owned and operated by alternative weekly company, village voice media incorporated which made an estimatesed $22 million in fees off the site. in a buyout deal announced this week, the newspaper and the if yaled weeklies are splitting. all that means is that village voice media is dumping the paper but keeping its classified section, including the ad listing purchase for women and children for sex. okay. andrea , this is clearly a central -- i mean, ife we're going to solve this, we can't rescue them one by one. we have to solve it at the source. what can we do about a back page?

    >> it's important to point out that organizations like fair girls , we are drowning in girls coming to our office. it's because village voice -- back page.com now, this is a smoke and mirrors effort on their part. but nonetheless, this, because the marketplace is so vast and so unregulated. so what needs to take place are three things. one, public education . we need to make peoplet just girls somewhere over there. they're in the hotel right next to you. tear in the apartment down the hall. they're in the schoolyard. these girls are being bought and sold like commodities. we need to raise the passion bar. these are girls who will are your neighbors, classmates. second, we need for a stronger federal and state push. look at both criminal and civil litigation . we need to make this something that is financially unattractive for lacy and larkin who own back page.com. i'm saying their name on purpose this time. i've never done that before. sitting down the hall from me are girls like asia , but younger, 12, 13, 14, or even 18 or 19 who were bought and sold on their website and they know about it because i've sent them letters and photos. i've begged their reporters that they say screen the ads. do something about this. this is a real girl , a real situation. no response at all. then finally, i think that what's really amazing about asia and other girls who are speaking up, they're showing other girls who were there in those hotel rooms and apartments, you can stand up. we're not going to stand for this anymore. i know we work tirelessly with the president's administration in preparation for the speech he gave tuesday. it was incredible to see the reaction of our fwirgirls in our office. he talked about us.

    >> what is it like to have the president of the united states saying your experience exists?

    >> i actually cried for about five minutes because i was kind of in such shock like did he really actually mention like what we go through on national news? and reporters all over the world, reporting on the topic. and i actually did a piece several days ago for usa today that was front page and i had a girl last night at our hotel who was in the life who actually approached me and said i read your piece. you spoke up for us. and a lot of girls i work with are like you're speaking up for us because we don't have that voice yet. i hope more girls can. i know some aren't ready yet to be there and do what i'm doing right now.

    >> you have an extraordinary voice, asia . i read your piece as well. you're here in nerdland. you actually consume a lot of political news that you watch it. tell me what your plans are in terms of both your education and your professional future as you're going forward?

    >> i'm trying to finish up a bachelors degree at the league of concentration as well as finishing up a bachelors degree in social work . i hope to continue to work with fair girls for as long as possible and open an office if andrea allows me to --

    >> miami again.

    >> this is sort of the whole point. when you say these are real girls , real people . it's also real contributions. real careers and lives and families. and to have the president stand and make that -- as you point out jonathan, there's been a lot of effort on the part of the white house , but neither he nor the white house alone can do this, right?

    >> right.

    >> this is going to take major changes in the marketplace, in our media. what do you see as some of the roles we can play?

    >> it's not just awareness of the girls . it's awareness of the jobs. we need to bring this to light. shame them. and also educate. from a young age, this is not acceptable. this is not what a regular guy does. this is sick. this is criminal. so we need education on both sides. on the male and female side.

    >> boys actually do want to hear this. we go into schools in d.c. as well as through partner organizations around the country. often the boys start to say, hey, i know a girl down the street. what can i do to help? they're listening to the song timp by 50 cent . usually the boys say i didn't realize how awful this was. that's disgusting. boys can be educated and then girls also need to understand. hey, he doesn't love you. he's using you like a piece of pizza. you have to stand up and i think to answer the question, digging deeper than just the girls , we need to also have a clear understanding that girls shouldn't be arrested because they're involved in this situation.

    >> absolutely.

    >> right now, there is a 13-year-old girl in d.c. in detention facility being treated like a criminal and she's a victim of trafficking.

    >> we criminalize girls or victims, sometimes also boys for prostitution rather than as you point out, putting the emphasis -- particularly of the criminal action on the men themselves. we have a minute left. i understand you brought something from the young lady .

    >> i'll be rude and open your present for you.

    >> no, no.

    >> this is a bracelet girls who's a survivor in our program and it's something that most of all nee have a sense of sisterhood and safe space and instead of having people take advantage of them, they can wear it and remind themselves.

    >> that sense of how that assault becomes on assault on who you are that allow force the possibility of enslavement is very -- and i will wear this in the knowledge of -- and the work that you are doing is extraordinary and we appreciate you continuing to do it.

    >> thanks for having us. thanks so much.

    >> andrea and asia thank you for being here and sharing your story. and up next, i've got a tale of internet cruelty that turned out differently this afternoon you might

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