Human trafficking, a form of modern slavery, has existed for thousands of years and is still a serious problem in many countries throughout the world, particularly with the resurgence of extremist groups like the Islamic State (ISIS).
This year’s Trafficking in Persons’ Report, released by the State Department, is arguably stronger than it has been in previous years and is providing renewed hope for non-profits that are seeking to end these heinous crimes against humanity.
Kari A. Johnstone, Acting Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP) at the State Department told Breitbart News, in an email, that since the report was first published in 2001, it has been the organization’s “principal diagnostic tool to assess government efforts across what we call the three Ps of prosecuting traffickers, protecting and empowering victims, and preventing future trafficking crimes.”
She noted that many countries are taking steps to address the trafficking conditions in their nations and the “TIP Report offers concrete recommendations for improvements for every country in the book. The recommendations serve as a country-specific roadmap to better combat trafficking, to make real institutional change that can put more traffickers behind bars, better find and assist victims, and prevent exploitation of the vulnerable.”
Approximately 40 million people in the world today are in modern slavery. And an additional 152 million children are in child slavery.
One of the most troubled countries with the human trafficking issue is Iraq, which has been on TIP’s Tier 2 watchlist for the second year in a row. While trafficking had existed in Iraq before the conflict there, the presence of ISIS has only exacerbated it.
The State Department noted in its report, “The Government of Iraq does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so.”
TIP also reported that Iran, which is listed as a Tier 3 country for trafficking, “is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor” and noted that “Iranian women, boys, and girls are vulnerable to trafficking in Iran, Afghanistan, the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR), Pakistan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Europe.”
The Iraq government passed an anti-trafficking law in 2012. According to the State Department, “The government also established an anti-trafficking department in the interior ministry, which collected human trafficking law enforcement data and operated the newly established anti-trafficking hotline.”
Currently, the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) is looking at passing its own anti-trafficking law, and the United States has been very supportive in the fight against human trafficking.
One NGO (Non-Governmental Organization), based out of Iraqi-Kurdistan has been on the front lines of this effort and helping to rehabilitate victims of human and sex trafficking, particularly victims of the Islamic State.
The SEED Foundation, which was started in 2015, began with a focus on Yazidi and other survivors of Daesh, or the Islamic State, including rehabilitating victims of the jihadist group’s sexual violence and exploitation and survivors of war, and child soldiers.
SEED’s President and Executive Director Sherri Kraham Talabany praised this year’s TIP report in an interview with Breitbart News.
“The TIP report in itself, every year, is a really important tool for reminding us about modern slavery. It helps us keep governments accountable; it helps us track progress,” Kraham Talabany said. “It’s very empowering as a civil society NGO to have this very measurable tool. But actually, this year, I was really, really impressed with the focus on the report which aligns very much with SEED’s approach which is emphasizing local solutions to this global problem, because you have to understand each country’s context and how trafficking happens.”
“You could see how this has aligned with some of the priorities that this [Trump] administration had laid out,” she said shortly after she attended the Religious Freedom Conference in Washington, D.C.
“Often, the target — at least in Iraq — of these traffickers are religious minorities. So you can see some alignment with some of the administration’s policies,” she said.
Kraham Talabany said for strategies to be meaningful, they need to be tailored and she thought this was one part of the report this year that was different from in previous years.
“And a second part of the report that is pretty integral to SEED’s approach is a focus on trauma care. It’s critically important that we provide aftercare to survivors of trafficking,” she added.
Aftercare is essentially follow-up care—mental and physical—that is needed to help survivors of human trafficking on their path to recovery and restoration.
Conducting aftercare, she explained, must be done in such a way that it “avoids re-traumatizing the victim” including “our actions, our words, the language we use, the whole environment we meet with our clients in. The whole justice system; not to re-traumatize and criminalize the victim is incredibly important.”
“Those were some observations about this year’s report that I think make it really colorful,” she said.
Kraham Talabany also has a U.S.-based 501(c)3, SEED for Change, which is used for fundraising. The group is holding a fundraiser in Washington, DC, on September 20, called the Breaking Chains Gala.
“We provide comprehensive care to survivors,” she said of SEED. “That’s mental health, psychotherapy; it’s social work services across a broad range of areas. We do protection work.”
Talabany noted that some of SEED’s clients have just escaped and some have been out of Daesh for a while and have not had access to care.
“I’d say 85 percent of the clients we work with are women and girls but we also uniquely serve men and boys. We have about 20 clients now that were trained as child soldiers; they are also trafficking victims,” she said.
Kraham Talabany also noted that SEED works on medical issues. “Trafficking survivors have extensive medical issues, and the Yazidi survivors of ISIS who were tortured and abused had extensive medical issues,” she said.
“SEED also expanded our work to the local population because Kurdistan has been exposed to decades and decades of persecution; this was not the first genocidal campaign,” she observed. “And so the trauma that trafficking survivors have experienced in widespread throughout Kurdistan. Most people have lived through and survived a traumatic event.”
SEED is working with the issue of children born of rape. “It’s happened in other wars, but in this war, you have the issue of religion. So the children aren’t being accepted back into their communities and many mothers want to keep their children. It’s a big issue. It’s a big challenge. The women and girls who were in ISIS captivity have been accepted back into their families and their communities, but there’s not as much acceptance for their children who were born of rape,” said Talabany.
“It takes a lot to change attitudes,” she added.
To that end, Kraham Talabany said this year SEED will be doing a lot of public awareness campaigns on the shelter, on trafficking, and on worker’s rights abuse, “because we also deal with foreign workers in Kurdistan.”
Because many of the same experiences or trauma that SEED was treating in the displaced population are also present in the host population, but the systems to address these issues were not available to provide the necessary rehabilitation to these victims and survivors, SEED had to establish its own treatment facilities.
“We created a center for mental health and psycho-social support at one of the local universities to include trauma psychology in the education programs and to do training of workers doing these services,” she said.
The KRG has formed an anti-trafficking committee, and SEED participates in that. She also said SEED is creating a shelter for trafficking survivors in collaboration and partnership with the KRG and with the U.S. government as a supporter.
“I think that will be a really important protection for survivors. It will be the first shelter in all of Iraq for trafficking survivors,” she said.
Although there have been some improvements in Iraq, Kraham Talabany said, “We’ve been able to see more progress in the Kurdistan region.” She noted Iranian women are also trafficking into Iraqi Kurdistan for sex work and children are recruited as child soldiers.
Among the State Department’s recommendations for Iraq was to “establish a legal framework for NGOs to operate shelters for victims and support such organizations; and establish and implement a legal framework in the entire country, including the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR), that criminalizes all forms of human trafficking and prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties.”
Johnstone noted the ultimate goal of the report is to “effect change.”
In her email to Breitbart, she wrote, “We continuously review how we can use the Report even more effectively as a lever to motivate tangible progress around the world.”
In closing, Johnstone noted, “Everyone has the potential for making a meaningful contribution to this fight. We also ask the media to continue using your platforms to inform the public about human trafficking and how individuals can have an impact.”