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Human trafficking is a growing crisis, activists say

Feb. 15, 2012, 2:25 a.m.

“Human trafficking is a growing problem nationally and globally, and public awareness is an essential part of any solution,” declared Anne Gallagher, director of the Asia Regional Trafficking in Persons Project, during a panel discussion on the topic Tuesday evening at the Bechtel Conference Center.


Mexico has become a major destination for human trafficking and a supplier of human sex slaves to the United States, according to Rosi Orozco, a Mexican congresswoman who joined Gallagher in the discussion. Orozco has supported proposed legislation in Mexico to curb human trafficking a practice she said is often promoted by drug cartels and organized crime syndicates because of the huge profits generated.


“Trafficking isn’t going away,” Gallagher said. “We don’t seem to be getting a grip on the problem, in terms of ending the level of impunity” currently enjoyed by those who force immigrant woman and children into prostitution.


One of the reasons that human trafficking has been such an intractable problem, Gallagher added, is that it is “woven into the fabric of the global economy. Trafficking fits into migration [patterns] and trade regimes that free up the movement of goods and services.”


According to Gallagher, one of the historic problems in controlling the crisis has been the lack of a consistently applied definition of human trafficking. In 1998, when she began working on the issue, “there wasn’t even an international legal agreement on what trafficking was,” she said.


“How dramatically things have changed,” Gallagher noted. “We now have a treaty and a definition replicated in almost every country in the world.”


Gallagher said an important step in addressing human trafficking was a shift in perspective on the issue within the international community. The topic, previously discussed only in the context of human rights, is now frequently addressed in conjunction with efforts to control drugs and crime. The United Nations passed a treaty in 2000 barring the practice and giving the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime responsibility for implementing the latest protocol.


However, a number of issues and obstacles continue to pose challenges to ending the practice, Gallagher said.


“Now the concern is that the definition is possibly too broad and can include forced marriage or pornography, which was not what the drafters planned in 2000,” Gallagher noted.


When human trafficking laws are expanded to attempt to control peripheral areas, it can dilute the effectiveness of anti-trafficking laws, she suggested.


Orozco emphasized the toll of human trafficking.


“I think of human trafficking as slavery,” she said.


Addressing the plight of women and children forced into prostitution, Orozco added, “even in their minds they are slaves.” As a result, Orozco said that human trafficking should be a crime that is “highly punished in every state.”


Gallagher emphasized the importance of pragmatic solutions to the crisis.


“We need specialized police and prosecutors, [since this is] a crime that is impossible to prosecute without the victim’s approval,” she said. She stressed the need “to bring victims into the criminal justice system.”


Noting that the issue has become “very politicized,” Gallagher urged the audience “to draw on different perspectives.” She stressed the importance for Stanford students “to think critically and to be discerning about what they take in and what they believe.”


The members of the Stanford community in attendance voiced concern for the plight of victims of human trafficking.


“I decided to attend this talk because I wanted to learn more about human rights violations and what I can do in my daily life to bring awareness to this issue,” Makeda Morrison ‘15 said. “I believe that as a consumer tied into the world market, it is my obligation to be knowledgeable about human trafficking.”


Helen Stacy, coordinator of the program on human rights at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, introduced and mediated the panel discussion, which was sponsored by the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL).


The presentation was part of the Stanford Program on Human Rights, a quarter-long series focusing on human trafficking as global slavery.

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