While segments of the American public may be unaware of human trafficking phenomenon plaguing the United States and nations across the globe, law enforcement officials are actively trying to combat the problem.
But according to some experts, law enforcement and other authorities may be unwittingly exacerbating the issue.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Humanity United's David S. Abramowitz shared their thoughts on the matter at a recent Senate Foreign Affairs hearing.
Read excerpts of their remarks below:
Sen. Marco Rubio: In our work on this, both in my time in the state legislature and here, one of the things I've run into is this … conflict. And by the way, what I'm about to say in no way should be taken as an insult on the intentions of the people involved in this.
But some folks in law enforcement…who struggle with the notion that these young ladies and others being trafficked were actually victims as opposed to perpetrators. I struggled with trying to explain to people that in fact these folks are not willing participants in a criminal enterprise - even if they are 21 or 19 or 20. In essence it's hard to explain to people because when you interact with the victim that's so emotional battered and so psychologically battered, they may act like a willing participant but in fact they've been trapped by the circumstances.
It's been difficult to interact with some in law enforcement who want to have the ability to treat them as perpetrators - in essence to put them on the stand and force them to testify against the pimp and the trafficker and more importantly to be able to punish them. And it's gotten really difficult to overcome that with some groups.
I was hoping we can dig into that a little deeper today, not just through your testimony here, but when we leave here today because I think it's one of the things that's holding us back from making more progress.
David S. Abramowitz: Sen. Rubio, I think this is an issue that really harkens back to the very beginning of efforts to combat human trafficking.
When I was on staff on the Foreign Affairs Committee and we had our first meeting with the Justice Department to try to discuss implementation this issue immediately came up: "These individuals are a part of the conspiracy and we need to turn them against their traffickers, we should withhold assistance, we should withhold various things until they're willing to testify."
One of the pernicious aspects of that particular attitude is that it makes the victims more afraid of law enforcement. So the very thing they're trying to accomplish, which is to try to bring the victims out and then perhaps if they can get some to come forward with their stories - they're actually diminishing that.
Now I will say we have made strides in this area. I think that the evolution of the victim-centered approach, which were the sort of buzzwords that were created in the Bush administration and have really been trying to implement, have made a difference.
Yet, there is still a prosecutorial imperative, to try to get the bad guys, and that creates and incentive to turn these women and girls - but also men and boys - to try to provide testimony when they're not ready for it.