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UI students call attention to human trafficking

BY CHASTITY DILLARD | SEPTEMBER 30, 2011 7:20 AM

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For UI sophomore Kyra Seay, silence is not an option in raising awareness about modern-day slavery.

"I speak for those who don't have a voice," said the president of Students Abolishing Slavery. "I can't be quiet."

Human trafficking occurs worldwide, including in the United States. The student organization has called members of Congress to ensure the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 won't lose its funding today.

"It needs to be renewed because of the way trafficking is changing," Seay said.

According to the Trafficking in Persons report of 2004, more than 14,000 people are trafficked into the United States and 200,000 American children are at risk of sex-industry trafficking.

Traffickers use new media, such as Craig's List, Seay said. The Internet creates a more secretive environment where trafficking can easily go undetected, the 19-year-old said.

Elizabeth Heineman, a UI associate professor of history and gender, women, and sexuality studies, said the act supports three main elements: prevention, protection, and prosecution.

"Before, if a women, girl, or boy were to escape [trafficking] and would go to the police, they would be classified as illegal immigrants and deported," she said.

Deporting victims creates a dangerous cycle, risking more trafficking or being ostracized from home countries, Heineman said.

The act created a special visa, allowing trafficked victims to become temporary residents and help out with the prosecution process, she said.

Even so, she said, fewer than 2,000 such visas have been granted, while tens of thousands were trafficked in the United States every year since 2000.

"The visa is very important, but it is an important part of a larger fabric," Heineman said. "The [Trafficking Victims Protection Act] mandates much more prosecution than before."

Human trafficking became a federal offense under the law, allowing penalties as high as life in prison, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Sen. Charles Grassely, R-Iowa, is working to reauthorize the anti-trafficking legislation, but he said focusing on the economy is more important right now.

"We simply can't continue to allocate as many resources as we have in the past," Grassley said at a hearing on Sept. 14.

The bill is scheduled to be discussed during the next executive committee meeting on Oct. 6. and voted out of the committee the following week.

Though expiration would not end services, lack of funding could prove detrimental to the survival of the act.

"Given the current environment for immigration, it can be very tempting for immigration authorities to consider trafficked people to be illegal," Heineman said. "Reauthorizing can be important in that way by making clear to [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] that there is a ≠-special visa available to trafficked victims."

Considered a crucial step in raising awareness to human trafficking globally and nationwide, the biggest issue is visibility.

"It's important to reiterate that it's not in the open anymore," said Sarah Bannon, the executive secretary of Students Abolishing Slavery. "Part of the reason people don't want to believe [trafficking exists] is because they can't see it."


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