On Sept. 22, 1862, 150 years ago, President Lincoln issued a preliminary proclamation that "all persons held as slaves within any (Confederate) State shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free." This laid the foundation for the Emancipation Proclamation and the abolition of slavery in the United States.
Today, we must face an ugly and under-recognized fact: a century and a half after the first Emancipation Proclamation, more than 20 million people are still bought, sold and forced to work as slaves around the world every day even here in the United States. The victims are men, women and children from all walks of life, all races and ethnicities, far-flung villages and our very own neighborhoods. We call this modern form of slavery "human trafficking," and according to the U.S. Department of Justice, it's one of the fastest-growing criminal industries in the United States today.
While statistics may be useful nothing can better illustrate the inhumanity of this crime or better guide our path forward than the wisdom and experience of survivors themselves. We can learn from survivors like Monica, who at the age of 15 was kidnapped walking down an American street by seven men. Dragged into the back of a car, driven hours from home, she was beaten, raped and eventually traded to another man, who sold her to as many as 20 men every day.
During her two-year ordeal, she was in and out of a juvenile justice system that failed to recognize her as a victim sixteen times, treating her as a criminal instead. Monica eventually found an extraordinary program called Motivating, Inspiring, Supporting and Serving Sexually Exploited Youth, or MISSSEY, that assists commercially exploited children, and she now works at MISSSEY full time helping other survivors reclaim their lives.
I have met other survivors who were abused on farms and factories, in urban streets and suburban households. Each of them has their own story. Some begin each day with the expectation of rape and some end each night praying only that their suffering will keep their families the ones the traffickers threatened to maintain their control safe. And for every survivor I've met, I know there are countless others still suffering.
Fortunately, anybody can join the fight to stop human trafficking. In this modern anti-slavery movement, Americans can start to make a difference with three simple steps. First, they can educate themselves and their children about the issue. Second, they can seek out and help organizations like MISSSEY that are working to support victims in their own communities. Third, they can contact their elected officials and ask them to pass laws that toughen penalties for perpetrators and protect the victims of human trafficking.
State and local governments have a critical role to play in this fight. Their law enforcement officers and prosecutors are on the front lines of this battle, but often they lack the tools they need to take on the traffickers. Here in California, a group of citizens, advocates, and public officials came together to put a new law, the CASE Act, on the ballot as Proposition 35. When Californians vote in favor of this ballot initiative in November, Proposition 35 will give California the toughest anti-trafficking laws in the United States. As citizens across this country join in this fight, the other 49 states should follow.
Meanwhile, on the national level, the United States has been a leader in the fight against human trafficking for more than a decade. In 2000, and again in 2003, 2005, and 2008, a bipartisan majority in Congress came together to pass and reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, or TVPA, containing provisions to combat domestic and international trafficking and to assist victims of trafficking. I have met many beneficiaries of these expenditures in the United States and abroad. I have seen firsthand the transformative effects of those programs: women, girls, men and boys whose lives were stolen and ultimately restored to them.
Unfortunately, due to political gridlock, Congress has allowed the TVPA to expire. While some TVPA programs have received appropriations for fiscal year 2012, future funding is not guaranteed. As a result, government agencies and their implementing partners are limited in their ability to undertake long-term interventions. We cannot afford to wait any longer Congress must reauthorize the TVPA before the end of the year and ensure that anti-trafficking programs remain funded.
Fighting slavery doesn't cost a lot of money. But the costs of allowing it to exist are incalculable. It robs us of the virtue we value most our freedom. Let our legacy be to deliver on the Emancipation Proclamation's promise, to make freedom a reality for every man, woman and child forced into slavery during these times that belong to the power of our voices, the power of our choices, and the power of change.