By Marco Rubio
12:00 a.m. EDT, August 16, 2011
Even as America grapples with a struggling economy and growing debt, we must not lose sight of our responsibility to protect and be a voice for the powerless.
Too many of our fellow humans are being exploited as part of the trafficking trade, a cruel form of modern-day slavery. Some are men, but most are women and children being abused and robbed of their dignity.
While the recent U.S. State Department’s “Annual Trafficking in Persons Report” highlighted how pervasive this practice is worldwide, many of these victims are also in our own communities, as about 17,000 new victims are trafficked in the U.S. annually.
In Florida, Miami, Orlando and Tampa have become main transit points. Just last month, 12 Floridians were accused of sex trafficking after two 15-year old girls from Highlands County ran away to Orlando, met a couple of men who drugged and raped them. Other men also raped the victims. One of them was then forced into prostitution in Miami.
Fortunately, victims have many key allies. Today in Orlando, a committed group of Florida-based and national activists is convening the 8th National and International Preventing Abuse Conference, which is raising awareness about this human tragedy and developing innovative ways to combat it. Groups like the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking are doing commendable work that exemplifies our calling to help victims of such unspeakable atrocities.
At the federal level, a groundbreaking human-trafficking law enacted in 2000 was the first slavery-related legislation passed since the Civil War ended. Among other goals, it required the State Department to evaluate countries on efforts to fight this problem and highlight needed improvements. This law now needs to be re-authorized before it expires at year’s end.
I am co-sponsoring the bipartisan Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which would build on the earlier version and enhance our capabilities to support law enforcement, assist victims and maximize government resources to combat this horrendous crime at home and abroad.
We are a compassionate nation, which understands that our most fundamental freedoms are universal rights. Our words must make this unmistakably clear, but our deeds must back them up. Our laws must be updated to protect victims and improve government’s ability to combat modern-day slavery. We must continue raising awareness to enlist support to stop this abuse.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida was elected in 2010.