After Ohio Kidnapping Victims’ Escape, Spotlight Grows on Human Trafficking

The escape of Michelle Knight, Gina DeJesus, and Amanda Berry – the three women allegedly held captive by Ariel Castro for over ten years in Cleveland, Ohio – has rekindled national interest in the scope and pervasiveness of both kidnapping and human trafficking. The women, who were in their mid-teens and early twenties when kidnapped, were reportedly raped and subject to multiple miscarriages.

Castro allegedly forced Knight, DeJesus, and Berry into a decade of sexual horrors before Berry escaped on Monday, May 6, 2013. According to CNN, Knight became pregnant at least five times while forcefully confined in Castro’s home. While pregnant, Knight was reportedly starved for weeks at a time and repeatedly punched her in the stomach until she miscarried. Berry bore Castro’s child in 2007.

According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, approximately 800,000 children are reported missing each year, with approximately 58,000 children being kidnapped for primarily sexual motives. Forcing kidnapped children into sexual relationships draws a dangerous parallel to and serves as a scarring iteration of the broader issue of human trafficking. This close relationship has many individuals and world leaders crying out for stricter governmental reforms in order to curtail the rapid growth of human trafficking.

Between 2008 and 2010, federally funded task forces opened 2,515 incidents of suspected human trafficking. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as “a form of modern-day slavery . . . [involving] the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit human beings for some type of labor or commercial sex purpose.” The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that sex trafficking accounts for approximately 8 in 10 incidents of human trafficking, while labor trafficking represents 1 in 10 incidents.

In 2000, an estimated 244,000 American children and youth were at risk of sexual exploitation. The number has since grown with 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 10 boys becoming sexually victimized before they reach the age of 18.

At the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2012, President Obama announced a number of new national commitments to combat human trafficking. These strategies include:

  1. Preventing human trafficking by raising awareness among vulnerable populations, leading by example, and educating the public and first responders;
  2. Prosecuting human traffickers through strengthened investigations and enforcement tools;
  3. Protecting survivors through comprehensive social services, family reintegration, and immigration services; and
  4. Partnering with civil society, state and local governments, the private sector, and faith-based organizations to maximize resources and outcomes.

Since the Clinton Global Initiative, the Obama Administration has implemented a number of programs to help combat the growing number of human trafficking victims. In February 2013, President Obama signed into law the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2013, which was passed by Congress as part of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2013 aims at strengthening protections for vulnerable children and domestic workers and helps foster effective partnerships to bring services to human trafficking survivors and to prosecute traffickers.

Furthermore, the Department of Homeland Security plans to amend the “T” nonimmigrant visa regulations that allow human trafficking victims to remain in the United States and aid in the prosecution of their traffickers.

Moreover, the Obama Administration has also partnered with leading technology companies to develop applications for trafficking victims, online and on their phones, to help link them with services in their communities. Similarly, the Department of State has partnered with a non-profit organization to increase the availability of pro bono legal services for human trafficking victims.

In light of these national efforts and international endeavors, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority voted on Tuesday, May 14, 2013, to support the transportation sector’s role in dismantling human trafficking by signing a pledge supported by “Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking.” The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s decision comes just days after Knight, DeJesus, and Berry regained their freedom.

Through the pledge, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority will raise awareness of human trafficking, train workers on how to spot potential traffickers and human trafficking victims, and share data that can be used to investigate and uncover human trafficking schemes.

While the steps that have been taken by the Obama Administration and by both national and state governmental agencies hint at the type of governmental and legal reform needed to battle the incidence of human trafficking, the rising frequency of human trafficking calls for further action to combat the evils of this form of modern-day slavery.

Megan Mikutis

About Megan Mikutis

Megan Mikutis is a second year student at the University of Houston Law Center. She graduated from the University of Houston – Clear Lake in 2012 with a B.A. in Literature. While obtaining her undergraduate degree, Megan tutored undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students in writing while working for the University of Houston – Clear Lake Writing Center. This summer, Megan worked for the Center for Children, Law, and Policy and had the opportunity to compose a policy statement discussing the disproportionate representation of Limited English Proficient students in special education. Currently, Megan serves as the President of the Student Bar Association as well as a member of the Hispanic Law Student Association. Megan is most interested in education and special education issues.

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