Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Oct 30, 2020 / 08:40 am
Two decades after the enactment of a landmark anti-trafficking law, the threat has evolved during the current pandemic—and so too, must the response, says the congressman who wrote the law.
“We’ve got to make sure that there’s a continued prioritization of all the law enforcement—from the cop on the beat, to the prosecutors, to the U.S. attorneys—to make this a priority,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), author of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000, in an interview with CNA.
Smith is also the special representative on human trafficking issues to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, an international body of legislators from 57 member states that promotes security through dialogue.
During the new coronavirus pandemic, he warned, children are more vulnerable than before to being trafficked, and survivors are at greater risk of being re-trafficked.
“In talking to the NGOs, the Catholic Church, others, they know that there has been a very serious increase—and law enforcement backs this up as well—in grooming of children online,” Smith said.
With children at home more often during lockdowns or partial lockdowns, predators try to contact them online. “That becomes a process of exploitation that ends with rape and other kinds of heinous activity,” Smith said.
“These people who do it know how to manipulate the mind of a child.”
Also as a result of the pandemic, trafficking survivors may have less access to the help they need if the operations of NGOs and charities are restricted because of public health orders, or a lack of donations. Shelters or employment programs might not be available. Jobs that once helped victims get back on their feet may not exist in the current economic climate.