March 3, 2009
Law class works on human trafficking issues
Human trafficking continues to be such a serious global problem that when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced her human rights initiatives last week, fighting the practice was near the top of the list.
A group of University of Iowa law students has been working on assignments that might help.
The students were participants in a class last semester about laws preventing human trafficking and involuntary servitude. Seven of the students in the class, taught by professor Mark Sidel, worked on several projects identified in conjunction with the nonprofit Center for Women Policy Studies to analyze policies that might make it easier to prosecute human traffickers.
Human rights organizations estimate about 27 million people are currently enslaved by human traffickers around the world, and the State Department estimates about 15,000 may be brought into the United States every year. Most are forced to work involuntarily as laborers or in the sex trade, even though some may initially enter the country voluntarily or even under contract.
Many have been abducted and taken across national borders to work in another country as undocumented aliens, and two UI students researched policies involving those victims. Specifically, Kara Moberg and Laura Johnson looked at laws in many European countries that allow victims who are undocumented aliens up to 30 days to decide whether they want to cooperate with the prosecution of their abductor. During this "reflection period," victims are also provided food, housing and other support services.
The lack of "reflection period" laws in the United States result in trafficking victims having to decide immediately whether they want to assist prosecutors. Those who agree can apply for temporary resident status.
But those who decline could potentially be deported to their home country immediately. Even those who agree and are allowed to stay in the United States are not guaranteed housing or other services by federal or state laws. Instead, they are referred to nonprofit organizations that provide what shelter and assistance they can.
Johnson and Moberg's research covers 47 countries' laws pertaining to reflection periods. They found 21 European countries have ratified a treaty requiring reflection periods, and others adhere to the reflection period requirement despite not having ratified the treaty. Many countries' laws exceed the 30-day period and give victims up to three months to decide. Norway provides a six-month period.
"We found that having a reflection period seems to assist in combating trafficking," said Moberg. "Victims are more willing to testify because that 30-day period gave them an opportunity to build a relationship with police and prosecutors, making it easier to trust them."
Johnson and Moberg said that trying human trafficking cases is inherently difficult because it often requires the cooperation of victims, many of whom are intimidated by the person accused of trafficking them. Many victims who were brought into a country illegally might also be afraid of police or being deported.
Other students in Sidel's class prepared research reports on state implementation of their anti-trafficking laws, focusing on state prosecutions of trafficking, and policies to protect victims and future trafficking.
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