Russian leaders were miffed last week when the United States government released its annual study of global human trafficking.
According to the Trafficking in Persons report authored by the U.S. State Department, there are as many as 27 million slaves around the world today.
State Department officials have ranked Russia as a “Tier 2 Watch List” country for nine consecutive years, the middle ranking on a scale of one to three that means the country is basically doing the bare minimum to curb trafficking.
This year, Russia would have been downgraded to “Tier 3,” the worst ranking, had the government not proposed a plan — yet to be implemented — that will crack down on trafficking, the study said. “Tier 3” nations lack even minimum standards of anti-trafficking enforcement and are not making significant efforts to improve. Cuba, North Korea, Sudan, Syria and fourteen other countries garnered that dubious distinction in the study.
In our own backyard?
But Russian leaders didn’t appreciate the U.S. assessment. Going on the offensive, a spokesman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry claimed the U.S. needed to stop focusing on other nations and do more to combat human slavery within its own borders. In a statement on the ministry’s website, Alexander Lukashevich wrote that between 100,000 and 500,000 illegal migrants entering the U.S. each year become victims of human trafficking. Lukashevich said his statistics came from human rights activists, but he didn’t identify them.
Even if their numbers are inflated, the Russians may have a point. The U.S. was ranked as a “Tier 1” nation despite cutting federal funds for anti-trafficking measures. The BBC reports that, every year, thousands of Latin American women are duped into becoming sex slaves by smugglers who promise them a better life in the U.S.
Treat the disease, not the symptoms
A piece in the Trinidad Express makes a similar point, acknowledging the severity of human trafficking in the Caribbean while criticizing the U.S. as the world’s “leading consumer” of slaves.
Part of the problem might be that police often view prostitutes and sex workers as lawbreakers. They don’t try to track down their pimps or break the systems that engender modern slavery.
“Treating victims as victims and not as criminals is important,” said Bradley Myles of the Polaris Project, a U.S.-based anti-trafficking operation, speaking with the BBC. “These are victims of crime with human rights and they should be protected.”