“The War on Human Trafficking: U.S. Policy Assessed” by Anthony M. DeStefano is about one of the modern-day plagues of our society; human trafficking. The author recognizes that talking about human trafficking phenomena is a broad and complicated topic. So DeStefano starts his analysis at a certain historical point.
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It begins his story in the late 1990s the federal government of the United States under President Bush, in his late months of the presidency, became increasingly concerned by what we today would evaluate as modern-day slavery the human trafficking phenomena.
According to the definition provided by the United Nations Protocol of Prevention, Suppression and Punishment Trafficking of Persons, “human trafficking” is considered to be the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power for the purpose of exploitation.”
For many years the Chinese immigrant trafficking to the United States has been considered a serious issue. Especially if we recall the inhumane conditions, they are treated. Conditions like being most of the time grouping persons inside a container for a week-long journey have even brought terrible consequences with the loss of hundreds of human lives.
It was these cases that attracted the attention of the author when he began to investigate these issues at the beginning of the last decade of the twentieth century. At present, Anthony M. De Stefano is a journalist for Newsday, a newspaper based in New York.
Throughout his investigation, he has covered trafficking cases and the legislative responses and efforts made to combat trafficking since the year 2000. Efforts made both at the national and international levels. The book we are talking about, The War on Human Trafficking: U.S. Policy Assessed, focuses on developments made in this area. It especially focuses on efforts made by the United States government to combat human trafficking.
De Stefano begins his book by discussing several of the trafficking cases that helped mobilize support for action in Congress. After that, he analyzes the governmental and legislative processes that culminated in the passing of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, commonly known as TVPA. It is interesting to note that although the Trafficking Victims Protection Act had a broad coalition of supporters, there still was a debate developed.
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This debate revolved around those representatives who were willing to use legislative action to push an anti-prostitution agenda, and those who felt that combating sex trafficking should not become a method of combating prostitution. There was also another point made by critics of the anti-prostitution agenda that labor trafficking, also, should receive equal attention as sex trafficking.
This is an issue De Stefano discuses widely in his book. He presents the debate surrounding how to characterize and address sex trafficking, not in an academic-professional way. This is visible when he fails to include any statement, or any opinion, from individuals on either side of the debate.
The author concludes this section by highlighting some important provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. He addresses specifically those considered by the United States government as its main three anti-trafficking aims. The first is prevention that these things may happen.
But the author recognizes what the United States government did at the time of the law-proposal, namely that prevention alone cannot solve the problem. It is quite improbable that the total prevention of the phenomena could occur in a short period of time.
Then we have to pass to the second aim, which is the enforcement of law and order and correct prosecution to everyone connected to this type of atrocities. This time the government wanted to send a message to the traffic dealers and to anybody involved in human trafficking. As De Stefano notes, up to that time, there were no adequate normative dealing with this issue.
It was rather a phenomenon that was novel to the United States. What is more important, the author emphasizes that the public perception of the “human trafficking” issue was lacking. The public opinion in the United States was not concerned much about this issue simply because the people did not see it as a problem affecting their lives. Even the media reportage of these phenomena was not adequate.
De Stefano notes that it is not that the media did not report these phenomena at all. The problem was that the place and consideration that editors gave this issue was not relevant. But De Stefano fails to explain further why the media did not give proper attention to the issue at hand.
And, most important, he fails to explain why, at a certain moment in history, the media turned its attention toward this phenomena and played a central role in persuading Congress and the government to take serious action against.
The last of the three aims for the federal government was that of victim protection. It was commonly known as the T-visa. In fact, this can be considered to be part of the law enforcement and prosecution of guilty. As De Stefano correctly recognizes, the victims of this phenomenon need to have particular attention.
As we can see by the definition of human trafficking that I mentioned above, we have the classical case of psychological consequences for the victims.
For many, if not almost all of them, there has been a serious “attack” on their cognitive capability and emotional stability. Physical violence has been exercised upon them, along with other types of violence, like verbal and psychological violence. This is especially true for sex and prostitution human trafficking.
In the chapters to come, the author recognizes how the United States government began to implement this policy. So he then considers efforts made by the American government to prevent trafficking abroad. Since the origin of the trafficking was not within the United States, then the government had to turn its eyes toward those regions from where everything begins.
It turned to the Balkans. One must say that these are some of the most insightful chapters throughout the book. In them, it is discussed growing recognition that the American government had that trafficking was a problem that only international cooperation can effectively combat.
It was very difficult, and in fact, De Stefano recognizes it as impossible to fight this war alone. This part of the book also discusses the challenges that the Balkan region faces in enacting and enforcing adequate anti-trafficking laws and rules. De Stefano here dedicates lots of pages to the victims of human trafficking.
He writes very passionately, especially for the psychological and emotional violence the victims of trafficking have to deal with. He also speaks of the difficulties of finding and prosecuting perpetrators and people involved in the issue and the diligent, painstaking efforts of a few motivated individuals who wanted to bring law and order to their societies.
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Although these chapters are some of the most interesting, this is a discussion that needs to be developed more. Maybe this could have been done better by placing it in a book focusing specifically on the Balkan region.
Another idea would have been of a book comparing the anti-trafficking efforts and regulations made by the American government with those made in different regions of the world and giving a special focus to the Balkans. We would say this is a weakness of the book, but certainly, this is arguable.
De Stefano uses the remaining chapters of the book to discuss problems that have arisen with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. He focused on the challenges of finding and prosecuting perpetrators and all other relevant persons involved in a certain way or another with human trafficking.
He recognizes that these problems have arisen, in part, from the shift of interest and funding priorities for the United States government after the attacks of September 11, 2001. But unfortunately, he fails further develop this topic also. The other difficulty is that of estimating the number of victims living in the United States. There exist a report (quoted by De Stefano) made by State Department analyst Amy Richard in 2000.
This report estimated that between 45,000 to 50,000 people are trafficked into the United States every year. But this number that has been widely criticized as a gross overstatement and De Stefano does not present in his book these critiques. He acts rather one-sided in this respect. On the other hand, the heavily criticizes the effectiveness of the congressionally mandated Trafficking in Persons Report.
This is an annual report that ranks countries according to their efforts to address the trafficking issue. It basically serves s as the basis upon which the federal government imposes political and economic sanctions. De Stefano justly discusses some indications of the ranking system’s effectiveness as well as the critique that the reports are based mainly on political considerations and not by focusing objectively on the trafficking issue.
In conclusion, we can say that “The War on Human Trafficking” book is a good overview of the efforts made by the American government to combat the human trafficking problem.
However, it must be added that the book leaves the reader wanting to know more about the major players’ motivations. Especially how they built, or failed to build, a network of support for their various agendas.
Undoubtedly this book serves a useful role in assisting people unfamiliar with human trafficking to better understand this very important issue. The unfortunate thing is that it will likely leave people in the anti-trafficking field unsatisfied. It has not taken an in-depth overview of the politics behind the development and the results of trafficking legislation.
The reader is left with the wish that the book had better transitions between its sections. Ultimately we must consider that De Stefano’s thesis is a good one. It is one that honest policy is crucial for the world to eliminate this form of modern-day slavery.