Press Releases

Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence Holds Virtual Roundtable on Addressing Human Trafficking in the U.S.

Watch the roundtable discussion here.

Today, the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence, led by Representatives Annie Kuster (D-NH), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Dave Joyce (R-OH), and John Katko (R-NY), held a virtual roundtable discussion on addressing human trafficking in the United States. According to Polaris, which runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 2019 saw a 20% increase in reports to the hotline from victims and survivors directly. The average age at the time the trafficking situation began of survivors of sex trafficking who were identified in 2019 was just 17. Cases of trafficking and sexual exploitation increase in times of crisis, with crisis calls to Polaris increasing by over 40% in the month following the COVID-19 National Emergency declaration.

The Task Force Members and panelists discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the rates and prosecution of human trafficking crimes - specifically, the implications of students utilizing online learning, prisons being emptied to reduce transmission, and the financial impacts of the pandemic on vulnerable populations and those at risk of trafficking. The connection between pornography and trafficking, the need for affordable housing to reduce trafficking, and the impact of trafficking on children and minors specifically were also topics discussed on today’s roundtable. 

The Task Force was joined by:

  • Catherine Chen, CEO Of Polaris
  • Yasmin Vafa, Executive Director of Rights4Girls
  • Eleanor Kennelly Gaetan, Ph.D., Director of Public Policy at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation
  • Eric Smith, Special Agent In-Charge of the FBI Field Office in Cleveland, Ohio

“The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the serious problem of human trafficking, which already was not getting the attention it deserved before this health crisis began,” said Kuster.  “In addition to the serious health consequences, the pandemic has also led to significant increases in unemployment, causing more people to be vulnerable to trafficking. Today’s discussion reinforced that law enforcement alone is not the answer to this problem. As Polaris’s Catherine Chen said, ‘We cannot arrest our way out.’ If we want to make a substantial impact and eliminate human trafficking, we must tackle the systemic issues that make people vulnerable to trafficking in the first place, such as housing insecurity.”

Kuster continued, “While Congress has taken action to provide assistance to those who are struggling, we need to do more. We must continue working to prevent people from losing their homes, and it is imperative that we pass the HEROES 2.0 Act to provide the stimulus payments, unemployment assistance and homeowner/renter insurance people need. I deeply appreciate hearing from today’s panelists on this important issue, and I look forward to sharing their insights with my colleagues as we continue our efforts to combat human trafficking and ensure Americans have the support they need to get through the COVID-19 crisis.” 

“Human trafficking traps victims in a heartbreaking cycle of abuse and exploitation,” Rep. Speier said. “Although we are living through unprecedented challenges, Congress cannot lose sight of the critical fight to eradicate the epidemic of human trafficking. In fact, COVID-19 has made at-risk populations even more vulnerable to trafficking and reduced access to services for survivors. Now more than ever, it is imperative that Members of Congress and experts in the field work together to examine how we can better address the root causes of trafficking, support survivors, and adapt to the increasingly technological nature of this crime. I look forward to working with my Task Force Co-Chairs to end this scourge.”  

“Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing forms of transnational crime,” said Congressman Dave Joyce (OH-14). “It’s estimated that over 40 million people are victims of human trafficking each year, resulting in profits exceeding those earned by Starbucks, Google and Nike combined. Sadly, the ongoing pandemic has exacerbated many of the circumstances that allow these crimes to happen. In April, the National Human Trafficking Hotline saw the number of reported trafficking situations increase by more than 40%. All of those statistics go to show how critical any and all efforts to eliminate these crimes are. I’m proud to join my colleagues on the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence in standing with our panelists in their fight to combat human trafficking. We will continue to do everything in our power to support their efforts at the federal level.”

“As a former federal prosecutor, today’s discussion hit close to home,” said Rep. Katko. “I saw the heinous consequences of human trafficking firsthand during my time on the Northern and Southern border. I firmly believe we must employ a systemic approach to recognizing and protecting victims among us. As a starting point, I was proud to have legislation I introduced signed into law that permanently disqualifies any individual who has been convicted of a human trafficking crime from operating a commercial motor vehicle. I’m also grateful for the work of McMahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center, Vera House, and other organizations in Central New York that are on the frontlines of the fight against human trafficking. Moving forward, I intend to continue my work across the aisle to combat these crimes in the U.S. and around the world.”

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Black, indigenous and communities of color, young people without parental support, and LGBTQ young people were more likely to be targeted for sex and labor trafficking,” said Catherine Chen, CEO of Polaris. “COVID-19 and the resulting economic impacts have disproportionately affected these same groups, increasing their vulnerabilities. As people continue to lose loved ones and caregivers, their jobs, face evictions and housing instability, and more, these situations become fertile ground for traffickers who prey on the most vulnerable for their own profit. Polaris is grateful to Representatives Kuster, Speier, Joyce, and Katko for hosting this critical conversation on combatting sex and labor trafficking in this unprecedented time and we look forward to working together to ensure this health and economic crisis does not exacerbate the ongoing tragedy of human trafficking.”

"The National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) was so grateful to be invited by Rep. Ann Kuster to participate in the task force's human trafficking briefing," said Eleanor Gaetan, NCOSE Public Policy Director. "She and the bipartisan task force are driving for solutions--not just more talk on how bad trafficking is."

“We're honored to join today's discussion on how Congress can help prevent human trafficking as part of the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence,” said Yasmin Vafa, Executive Director of Rights4Girls. “We're grateful to Congresswoman Kuster and the Task Force co-chairs for hosting this critical discussion examining the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated sex trafficking and heightened the vulnerability of women and children across the country. At a time where so many of our nation's children are facing increased violence and exploitation, the work of the Task Force is essential to helping identify solutions Congress can take to improve the safety and well-being of our youth.”

"Human trafficking remains a concern for law enforcement and communities nationwide.  The use of the internet remains at the heart of these crimes,” said Eric Smith, Special Agent In-Charge of the FBI Field Office in Cleveland, Ohio. “The recruitment and subsequent grooming of victims is often accomplished through use of social media.  Over time, the applications used by traffickers and their techniques have changed but the premise is the same.  Gain the trust of a potential victim, offer them affection, money, or material items and then introduce them to the world of sex trafficking.  The FBI remains committed to working with our law enforcement and community partners to identify and prosecute traffickers and provide victims the assistance they need.” 

Today’s virtual roundtable can be viewed here.