The following is a statement from Kay Buck, CEO of the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST):

There are currently more slaves alive than at any other point in history—over 27 million across the world. At the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking (CAST), we spend each day providing lifesaving services to survivors, as well as a platform to empower them to overcome the exploitation they endured and become leading voices in shaping policy and public awareness around trafficking. Annually, the State Department releases a report that takes a close look at how the United States and countries around the world are dealing with the gravity of the epidemic of Trafficking in Persons (TIP). While we are proud to see nations taking important steps to combat this issue, we are saddened to see the results of any country slipping in their standing. As a global community we must work together to end the fastest growing criminal enterprise of the 21st Century.

The theme of this year’s trafficking in persons report is to focus on responsibilities of governments to criminalize human trafficking and hold offenders accountable.

Although CAST applauds the idea of seeking justice for victims and accountability for traffickers, highlighted in Secretary Tillerson’s message, the world can not prosecute enough cases to end modern slavery. CAST urges this administration to place more weight and thought on the diverse forms of justice that victims need as well as on prevention of this crime in the United States and abroad.

Looking carefully at the US government’s report on its own activities to combat trafficking in the US - CAST appreciates the report’s highlight of the fact that many trafficking victims are still arrested and criminalized for crimes their traffickers force them to commit in the United States, and urges the states and the US government to do more in this area. CAST often times have clients who come to us with 20-40 arrest and convictions—despite the fact they were victims.

CAST also applauds the report highlights of the need for a federal vactur bill which has been a policy priority of the National Survivor Network since 2015. Although this bill was introduced again in January of 2017, this important measure has been stalled in both the House and Senate. In highlighting this need the report does a good job of prioritizing the voices of survivors and the policies they seem as most important in the United States.

CAST is disappointed once again to see the disparate balance between prosecution of sex and labor trafficking cases—with only 13 labor trafficking cases being prosecuted in the whole United States. 50% of CAST’s case load is consistently labor cases and 50% are sex trafficked. We believe more must be done by law enforcement and other government agencies to address all forms of trafficking.

Finally, CAST knows based on first-hand experience serving both US citizens and Foreign national victims that both populations are vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation in the United States, and was disappointed to see that the monies spent by DOJ served US citizen victims disproportionally with 66% of clients being served during the reporting period were US citizen and LPRs and only 34% being foreign nationals.

The White House’s commitment to fight human trafficking is critical to the success of anti-trafficking efforts across the world. We appreciate the Secretary’s acknowledgement of the magnitude of this epidemic and the White House’s long-standing promise to combat human trafficking. We urge our leadership to remain in-line with the statements of support and commitment made today and keep the survivors we serve in mind when they make serious policy and funding decisions that will impact our ability to help those in need. We are confident that through a shared commitment to this issue, and a strong partnership that allows for dialogue between this administration and organizations like CAST, we can be an impactful resource to help shape any policy and continue to make the United States a leader in the fight against human trafficking.

Each year, the TIP Report helps us grade and assess the work being done in this space across the globe and here in the United States. While this is both an important benchmark to ensure we are all held accountable and a significant moment to bring international spotlight to trafficking, we urge both the public and the government to remember that what we are discussing is more than a grade or classification, but years and lives lost each year to human slavery. At CAST, we remain steadfastly committed to working each day to protect victims of trafficking.

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ABOUT CAST: Led by CEO Kay Buck, CAST is a Los Angeles–based nonprofit and is one of the pioneers of the US anti-trafficking movement. CAST provides life-saving services to survivors of human trafficking and mobilizes citizens to build a future where modern slavery no longer plagues our communities, our city or our world. Through partnerships with over 100 cultural and faith-based community groups, healthcare organizations, government agencies and law enforcement, CAST provides support at every phase of a human trafficking survivor's journey to freedom. In April 2014, CAST’s excellent work was honored by President Obama with the Presidential Award for Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons. CAST was the first NGO to receive this award.