Almost 100 years ago (1911), the CCAR adopted a resolution against what was then called "White Slave Traffic." This resolution noted with approval "widespread and vigorous efforts" at international, national, and local levels to overcome "the evil" of human trafficking. Unfortunately, this evil has not been eradicated; on the contrary, it is spreading rapidly and must not be ignored. "A recent U.S. Government estimate indicates that approximately 800,000-900,000 people annually are trafficked across international borders worldwide and between 18,000 and 20,000 of those victims are trafficked into the United States. This estimate includes men, women, and children trafficked into forced labor and sexual exploitation." ("Trafficking in Persons Report," Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Under Secretary for Global Affairs, U.S. Department of State, June 11, 2003.) The U.S. Federal "Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000" which provides (among other things) for an annual report on the status of international trafficking and the establishment of an interagency task force, and which doubles the penalties for convicted traffickers and requires the President to deny non-humanitarian aid to governments that condone or tolerate trafficking, is an important first step toward addressing this inhumanity.
A report by the Solicitor General of Canada (October 1997) concluded that migrant trafficking accounted for 8,000 – 16,000 illegal immigrants in Canada every year, many of them female youths and children who are forced to work in Canada’s booming sex trade industry. The same report estimated that those profiting from the illegal trafficking of children and women in Canada earn as much as $400 million annually. (The Canadian Women’s Health Network, http://www.cwhn.ca/resources/sex_trade/).
Our Jewish texts teach us that we are responsible for the treatment of our neighbors; we therefore cannot stand idly by as this trafficking continues. Since ancient days we have been commanded to recall our own experience of slavery as a reminder of our obligation to others: "You shall not subvert the rights of the stranger or the fatherless; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pawn. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and that Adonai your God redeemed you from there; therefore do I enjoin you to observe this commandment." (Deuteronomy 24: 17-18) We are also told, "Whoever kidnaps a man, whether he has sold him or is still holding him, shall be put to death." (Exodus 21:16) Maimonides reminds us that kidnapping a person transgresses a negative prohibition. (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Genizah, 9.5)
It is unbelievable that the tragedy of human slavery continues in the twenty-first century. In this modern manifestation of forced servitude, once victims are caught up in the human trafficking industry, they find themselves in intolerable situations of forced prostitution, sweatshop labor, or exploitive domestic servitude. Those trafficked, primarily women and children as young as 4 years old, are typically acquired by kidnapping, purchase, or lured with fraudulent descriptions of non-existent jobs and a better life. Stripped of their passports, they are held against their will, as virtual prisoners, receiving little or no pay. There is no Jubilee Year awaiting these victims; no hope of freedom unless governments around the world unite and commit to eradicating this evil.
THEREFORE the Central Conference of American Rabbis resolves to:
1. Urge all governments to provide protection for the victims of trafficking, to work to prevent trafficking, and to prosecute those organizations and people responsible for the trafficking industry;
2. Where possible, support legislation that would combat trafficking;
3. Urge international non-governmental organizations to combat trafficking and support them in their efforts;
4. Urge governments to grant visas to the victims of trafficking, regardless of quotas;
5. Inform our communities about the scope of human trafficking and urge them to:
1. Support state and provincial legislation that would penalize traffickers while protecting the victims;
2. Work with local and state/provincial police and prosecutorial agencies to prosecute the traffickers and protect the victims;
3. Join in coalition with other groups offering advocacy and assistance to the victims of trafficking; and
4. Not abet traffickers by being aware of the very real possibility of these victims in our own neighborhoods.