July 25, 2007

Freedom for All

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Each year, on Juneteenth Day, we celebrate the end of slavery in America.  Sadly, slavery as an institution persists to this day.  Human trafficking has become an international crisis that affects millions of people each year, and it inflicts deep emotional and physical wounds on its victims.

Women and children are the hardest hit by this crisis.  The U.S. State Department Estimates that over 18,000 people are trafficked into this country each year, and they are subjected to the cruelest physical, mental, and sexual abuse. Victims live and work in horrible and unsafe conditions and are forced into dangerous and slave-like labor.

Yet, despite the horrific nature of these crimes, very little is being done to end Human Trafficking.  Worse still, most states have little or no services for victims, who usually do not have identification or family and rarely speak English.  We can no longer ignore the suffering of so many; we must take action now.

First, we need tougher penalties for people and business engaged in human trafficking. The legislature must define human trafficking and include tough penalties.  Businesses found guilty of trafficking should be banning from the state.  This modern form of slavery must end.

Second, we must provide legal protections for victims, who are often forced to commit crimes for their abductors. Additionally, the government must also provide emotional, physical and financial support to victims regardless of immigration status. Remember, these victims have been transported here against their will and brutally mistreated. They need our help, and we have a moral obligation to do the right thing.

Several weeks ago, I had a chance to discuss these very issues at a forum held by the Sisters of St. Agnes in Fond du Lac.  I received a very warm welcome and a tremendous amount of support for these proposals.  I hope we all can join together to help these victims regain their freedoms and their lives.

This isn’t a political issue; it’s a humanitarian issue.  In the coming months, I will be working with my colleagues to enact the needed changes into law, and we will make Wisconsin a leader in the fight to end human trafficking.