Friday, March 22, 2013

VS. Confronting Modern Slavery in America

About Us

Who We Are. What We Stand For.

By Debra Brown Steinberg

Chair, VS. Editorial Board

VS. Confronting Modern Slavery in America is dedicated to heightening public awareness of human trafficking in America and providing a platform for anti-trafficking organizations and agencies to work collaboratively and innovatively together, outside their organizational silos, toward common goals. VS. is an innovative pro bono project conceived and executed by the Women’s Leadership Initiative of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP.

VS. makes injustice visible. Human trafficking-modern slavery-is here in America in crisis proportions. Our State Department has designated the United States as a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children-both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals-subjected to forced labor, debt bondage, involuntary servitude, and sex trafficking. The number of human trafficking victims in the U.S. is estimated to “reach[] into the hundreds of thousands… .”1 These thousands of human beings, living in our country, in our communities, are being bought, sold, enslaved, and tortured under our very eyes. But, we don’t see it. We can’t even believe it’s happening. We are blinded by a myopic view that human trafficking is the creature of other countries where human life is devalued and the rule of law is only given lip service. We are captive to unconscious biases that prostitution is a choice “bad girls” make and that indentured servitude is the price an undocumented or migrant worker accepts for a chance at the American Dream. The truth is much harder to accept. Just last month, in a single federal law enforcement operation, 123 sexually exploited children-30 under the age of 9-were identified; 110 of these victims were found in 19 U.S. states.

VS. is a virtual roundtable for frontline organizations and agencies engaged in preventing domestic human trafficking in all its invidious forms. It is a forum for protecting and healing its survivors. It is a collaboration for improving legislation and advancing a victim-centered approach to more effectively prosecute perpetrators. VS. is a place where the anti-trafficking community can connect, speak, educate, and advocate.

In partnership with that community, VS. supports reauthorization of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, possibly the most important anti-trafficking legislation ever enacted. We support legislative reform at the state level to decriminalize victims of human trafficking and to recognize them for who they are: victims of intolerable human rights abuses. We are committed to raising public awareness that America faces a critical shortage of safe shelter for trafficking survivors, with an estimated 519 beds in the entire country exclusively designated for thousands of human trafficking survivors.2 We undertake to profile organizations performing essential services for domestic trafficking survivors and to highlight the exceptional work they are doing with scarce resources and virtually no public recognition. Through care and compassion, the scars of modern slavery can be healed. We encourage you to view Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Taro Yamasaki’s inspiring Black Heart, Red Heart exhibition, housed in VS. Art of Survival*, to see the difference safe shelter can make in the lives of trafficking survivors.

VS. is created in the belief that we can stop human trafficking when we stand together. We welcome your participation with VS. in the work that lies ahead.

  1. Human Trafficking Overview, Polaris Project, available at 
  2. Shelter Beds for Human Trafficking Survivors in the United States (2012), Polaris Project, available at 
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