I have recently been reflecting on a speech that Kevin Bales made at a TED conference where he talks about how when we free slaves today we want to make sure they experience true liberation and not botched emancipation.
I was thinking about that line as I viewed the movie “Lincoln.” As I watched the legislative process and the strength, resolve and political finesse Lincoln was portrayed to possess, I wondered what it might have been like had he lived. Would the Emancipation have been different if Lincoln had been alive to usher in Reconstruction? Would individuals who had been freed been provided with the support and tools they needed for true liberation? I’m not sure.
As I watched the 112th Congress over the last two years I wonder if we are even still capable of having great defining moments such as the passage of the 13th Amendment. I wonder if today, nearly 150 years later, if we can finally end slavery – still experienced today in the United States and around the world in the form of sex trafficking. I’m hopeful but skeptical if the political will isn’t created.
In 2000 the United States passed new legislation to fight this form of modern-day slavery in The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (TVPA). The act was reauthorized and improved with amendments in 2003, 2005 and 2008. It was due to be reauthorized in 2011, yet the 112th session of Congress ended without reauthorization. The House and the Senate passed competing versions of the bill. The Senate took up the House version of the bill, got 60 co-sponsors for the legislation, yet it died because an anonymous hold was put on the bill. That prevented a vote from being held. I’m hopeful the 113th Congress will take up and reauthorize the TVPA soon.
Despite these delays, much more effort is being made to fully liberate sex-trafficking survivors. We now know that simply setting a person free does not provide true liberty. True liberation is a process. It requires assisting the freed person in finding housing, getting support and addressing their legal needs.
The Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services has stepped up to be part of the solution. By partnering with major law firms in Chicago through A.T. L.A.S.S.T. – Attorneys Tendering Legal Aid to Survivors of Sex Trafficking – LAS has begun helping sex trafficking survivors recover and be free by handling their legal needs related to trafficking. Sometimes it involves helping a survivor clear up their record because they were charged with crimes instead of being recognized as a victim while they were being trafficked. Or it could mean helping a survivor access education. It might be helping a survivor with immigration needs and reuniting them with their family, so the survivor can start planning their life with some security.
Becoming Part of the Solution
I’m often asked by others how they can help. Countless times I’ve worked with a survivor who was rescued because someone recognized that the person was likely enslaved and called the police or the national human trafficking hotline, 1-888-3737-888.
If you know someone who is a sex trafficking survivor, please contact me at 312-986-4485 or email ATLASST@metrofamily.org.
I believe that if we respond we can create the political will needed to end slavery. If we gather our collective resources and skills, ours is the generation that can see the end of sex trafficking and help those who are enslaved experience true liberation.