– As prepared for delivery –
Good afternoon. First, I would like to thank Ms. Șerbănuță [share-buh-NUTE-suh] for that warm introduction, and for showing me around this beautiful library. I would also like to welcome [Panelists’ Names to Come], and thank them for taking the time out of their very busy schedules to be with us today at this very important event.
Trafficking in persons remains a scourge on both our societies. People are taken, sometimes by force, sometimes by false promises, to other countries far from their own. There, they are forced into the black labor market, or the sex trade. They are often held as virtual prisoners by their traffickers, who control their lives and their fates.
To help these victims – three fourths of whom are women and over one third of whom are children – governments need to do their best on three fronts. They need to prevent trafficking from happening. They need to prosecute traffickers when it does happen. And they need to protect the victims after the crime has happened. It is this last point – Protection – that is the theme of today’s discussion.
Both Romania and the United States are source, transit, and destination countries for victims of human trafficking. In the United States, through trying to help these victims, we have come to realize what they need in terms of protection once we have freed them from their captors. They need food and shelter. They need medical and psychological services. They need translation. They need immigration and legal assistance. They need training and employment. And the list goes on and on.
Our government has realized it cannot properly address all these issues on its own. So we fund NGOs, who can help us to help the victims.
While we in the United States have made great strides in protecting trafficking victims, we are by no means perfect. The same NGOs we fund have complained of disparities in the level of protection we give labor trafficking victims – including child labor – in relation to victims of the illegal sex trade. Our shelters, especially those for labor trafficking victims, continue to be insufficient. In finding places for trafficked children to live, we sometimes create restrictive conditions that mimic those they suffered under their traffickers. And we sometimes detain and prosecute victims – particularly sex workers – for crimes they committed as a result of their being trafficked.
We know about these problems. And multiple agencies across our federal, state, and local governments, as well as our partner NGOS, are working to fix them. What we need, ultimately – and what I would recommend for Romania and any other country tackling the scourge of trafficking – is to keep a focus on the victim. This means employing a victim-centered approach in all phases of victim identification, assistance, recovery, and participation in the criminal justice process.
I cannot stress enough the importance of the continued collaboration between government and civil society in protecting trafficking victims. We need to instruct all levels of our government to work together, with one another and the NGOs. We also need to fully fund these NGOs so they can continue and expand their vital work. And we need to keep the protection of trafficking victims first and foremost in all that we do.
It is in this spirit that welcome today’s discussion. Because I firmly believe this is one of the best ways to address a problem such as human trafficking: by putting smart, dedicated people in a room and giving them the time to think their way through the problem. Out loud. Together. Thank you.