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By Mikhail Bell (@Bellsworld)

On June 19, the State Department unveiled its annual assessment of efforts to combat human trafficking, known as Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report. While the 2013 TIP Report emphasized victim identification, the release ceremony was equally laden with significance.

Comparing legal slavery in the 19th century to modern human trafficking, Ambassador Louis Cdebaca noted that the latter is a “shadow economy” that flouts human dignity. International efforts have not tolerated human trafficking “as a legal institution but as a crime.” It has now been forced into “the dark corners beyond the law’s reach, preying on the most vulnerable,” the anti-trafficking office head said.

Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ), a devout Catholic, attended the release and has tirelessly labored to increase awareness during his time on Capitol Hill. Smith also was a driving force in passing the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the U.S.’s federal anti-trafficking legislation. Fittingly, Secretary of State John Kerry paid homage to the congressman who “was banging the drum on this long before many in Congress even knew what trafficking in persons was or what it really meant.”

“We are doing this not just to pass judgment on other people but because we know that we can advance this cause. We can make a difference,” Kerry asserted. “Every government is responsible for dealing with it and no government is yet doing enough.”

Does It Happen Here Too?

Citing America’s transition from a slaveholding to a slavery-fighting nation Kerry said, “Slavery was written into our Constitution before we built up the support to write it out.”

In 2010, the United States wrote itself into history again when the State Department rated America’s anti-human trafficking efforts for the first time. Since then Americans have become increasingly aware that human trafficking is happening to American citizens. Mauri, 16, embodies the emotional and psychological trauma survivors experience from traffickers, as well as the long road of recovery that follows. Her story confirms an inconvenient truth: commercial sexual exploitation occurs here too. The 2013 TIP Report recounts her story as follows:

Mauri was only 16 years old when she was prostituted on the streets of Honolulu, Hawaii. For her, there was no escape; her pimp threatened to kill her family if she did not go out on the street night after night to make him money. If Mauri tried to use some of the money to buy food, she was severely beaten. Mauri finally escaped when she was picked up by law enforcement. She is now a rehabilitation program and has reunited with her parents but her road to recover has been long and difficult. She suffers from terrible flashbacks and severe depression, and has even attempted suicide. Mauri says she was lucky to get out alive: ‘The longer you stay the less hope you have.

According to Secretary Kerry, 46,000 people out of an estimated 27 million were rescued in 2012. While the successes of 2012 are visible, it is apparent that the need is great.

“Prosecuting Traffickers Is No Easy Task”

Each year, the State Department selects a TIP Report Hero to recognize “exceptional commitment to combating human trafficking.” Mohammed Bassam Al-Nasseri, an International Organization for Migration (IOM) staffer is indeed exceptional.

In July 2011, Al-Nasseri discovered 35 Ukrainian and Bulgaria construction workers who were victims of labor trafficking in Iraq. They were promised $1,700 a month in wages but were abandoned in a country where none knew the language and only one spoke English. Al-Nasseri provided them with food and medical support. He did not stop there as helped to get legislative support to combat human trafficking.

“Prosecuting traffickers is no easy task,” he admitted. “With each positive step we take forward, a trafficker seems to advance ten.” Despite this obstacle, Iraq passed its first anti-human trafficking law in 2012.

Even as State Department officials honored the TIP Hero, Al-Nasseri eschewed praise and encouraged his colleagues. “We are on a journey of 1,000 miles and so I am asking [anti-trafficking advocates] to be strong and not to give up,” he reminded.

The 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report and award ceremony remarks are available on the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons website.