Returning to a bipartisan approach to end human trafficking
Today, an estimated 25 million people (about the population of Texas), including children, are trapped in the cycle of human trafficking. Through fraud, coercion or force, victims are sold and traded for labor and sex, with traffickers continually developing more sophisticated tactics to fuel the second-largest criminal industry in the country.
During the previous administration, the anti-trafficking movement gained attention — for questionable reasons. Misinformation distracted from the truth of the movement and the efforts of dedicated Republicans and Democrats fighting to make a difference.
The time has never been more important for a bipartisan focus on this issue, and it wouldn’t be a first for Congress. In 1910, the Mann Act made it a felony to knowingly persuade, induce, entice or coerce an individual to travel across state lines to engage in prostitution or attempts to do so. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000 developed a three-pronged approach to fight trafficking through prevention, protection and prosecution. Unfortunately, nearly a century of inaction had allowed the world of human trafficking to grow into an agile, shadowy and wildly profitable industry.
Just look at the gross violations of human dignity that New York Times prize-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof recently uncovered with his investigation into the darkest realms of Pornhub — the world’s most visited pornographic website. His reporting revealed the site’s history of nonconsensual, user-submitted videos featuring trafficking victims, rape, revenge porn and the exploitation of minors.
Kristof’s reporting inspired a bipartisan group of legislators to introduce a bill that would give the victims a path to sue sites like Pornhub. Visa, Discover and Mastercard investigated the claims and cut ties when unlawful content was confirmed on the site. Pornhub, back peddling from their initial response that the claims were “irresponsible and flagrantly untrue,” scrubbed an estimated 60 percent of their content from the site.
Knowledge inspires action.
Kristof’s reporting created immediate impact because it deployed one of our best weapons against trafficking: the stories and knowledge of survivors. If we are going to build on the momentum growing since 2000, we must listen to survivors. We have to create a world where survivors are empowered to tell their stories through a system that supports recovery, healing and justice. Increasing public awareness is the first step toward building that world.
When we learned about the prevalence of child sex trafficking, and all its horrors, we founded the Malouf Foundation, a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to confronting child sexual exploitation, specifically sex trafficking and online abuse. We created a platform that builds on the initiatives of the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign, but through the lens of survivors. OnWatch™ is our free training for civilian and business leaders to learn how to spot, report and prevent domestic sex trafficking.
State and federal government officials need similar training, one that utilizes knowledge from survivors of domestic trafficking. In our discussions with senior officials from the previous administration, legislators of both parties and the Department of Homeland Security, we urged that the Department of Homeland Security be equipped to develop a curriculum to educate personnel at other federal agencies that may handle human trafficking issues.
As the Biden administration comes into office, our nation’s leaders must unite to fight the ever-morphing hydra of sex trafficking. We must reforge a bipartisan front, alongside non-public advocates in the human trafficking fight like the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Safe House Project, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and the Polaris Project. Every step forward, every survivor we listen to and every person we inform gets us closer to breaking the cycle of slavery. Let’s make sure it doesn’t take another 90 years for action.
Kacie and Sam Malouf are co-founders of Malouf and the Malouf Foundation and partners at Tamarak Capital. In 2016, Kacie and Sam formalized the Malouf Foundation, the charitable arm of the company dedicated to ending child sexual exploitation. Sam was named the EY Entrepreneur of the Year in 2017 and is a Glassdoor Top CEO, and Kacie was named one of the 2020 30 Women to Watch by Utah Business Magazine.