Cazzie Reyes is a Researcher for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center's Anti-Trafficking Programs. She graduated from Bradley University with a Bachelor's degree in International Studies and a minor in Women's Studies.
Decriminalization of Prostitution: After much lobbying and debate, Amnesty International delegates voted in August 2015 to support policies that decriminalize the sex trade.
ISIS and the Yazidis: First came the reports of ISIS recruiting child soldiers. Then came news stories and testimonies from members of the Yazidi community about the women being sold for sex or forced to marry ISIS militants.
Backpage.com: Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart faced off with Backpage.com with mixed results. Credit card companies agreed to stop processing transactions involving the purchase of sex ads on the site. However, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled that Dart violated Backpage’s First Amendment free speech rights and barred him from further contacting credit card companies with the intent to stop their transactions on the site.
'Comfort Women' and Reparations: In World War II, Japanese soldiers raped and forced over 200,000 women and girls into sexual slavery. In December 2015, the Japanese government apologized for the atrocities committed and pledged a $8.3 million fund for surviving South Korean victims.
Thai Fishing Supply Chains: The Guardian and Associated Press reported a slew of labor rights abuses in Thailand’s fishing sector. The discovery of mass graves of trafficked Rohingya Muslims and year-long investigations tying tainted supplies to major U.S. retailers dominated headlines in the latter half of 2015. The military junta responded by cooperating with national and international actors to get its supply chains cleaned up. With a trial underway and increasing pressure from governments and consumers alike, the spotlight on Thailand will likely continue in the new year.
Uzbekistan’s Cotton Fields: The persecution of activists and documentation of continued state-imposed forced labor in Uzbekistan brought attention and criticism to the World Bank’s investments in the country and the decision to upgrade Uzbekistan’s ranking in the 2015 TIP Report.
Slavery in the U.S.: From teens exploited by sales magazine crews and tobacco growers to adults working in nail salons and prison-run labor schemes, antislavery and human rights groups reported on the extent of child and forced labor in the U.S. The victory against Signal International and justice for Indian workers trafficked to work in the clean-up after Hurricane Katrina highlighted the necessity and difficulty of prosecuting trafficking crimes.
FIFA: Corruption and bribery scandals shook the FIFA organization and brought attention back to abuses in the kafala labor sponsorship system in Qatar and the forced laborers building the stadiums for the World Cup in 2022.
Nepal’s Earthquake: The April 2015 earthquake and its aftershocks killed thousands and left millions homeless in Nepal. Child trafficking became a serious concern as exploitative orphanages and traffickers took advantage of unaccompanied or displaced children.
Refugee Crisis: Economic need and the lack of security have led to child labor and child marriage involving refugees in Europe and the Middle East. The steady flow of refugees as well as migrants continues to overwhelm reception centers and heightens fears over human trafficking and exploitation.
Anti-Abortion and the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015: After heated debate and much controversy, Senate passed the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 in April, and President Obama signed it on May 29, 2015. The bill called for the provision of resources for law enforcement and a fund for trafficking victims. Republicans included language holding the victim fund subject to the Hyde Amendment which bars taxpayer funds from being used for abortions except in cases of rape and incest. The compromise created two funding sources: 1.) fines collected from traffickers used towards survivor services, except health care and 2.) community center funds subject to the Hyde Amendment restrictions.
2015 TIP Report: Uzbekistan’s upgrade wasn’t the only ranking questioned by human rights organizations and politicians in the U.S. and abroad. Disagreements over 17 countries’ standings left many frustrated with what was called a “politicized and watered-down” report.
Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP): After years of negotiations, the 12 members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement have sealed the trade deal. Congress still has to approve the TPP, and critics doubt that provisions will effectively improve labor conditions in problematic countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia.
Funding: In June, United Way launched the Center on Human Trafficking and Slavery to make a concentrated effort in cross-sector collaboration, increasing public and political will and developing solutions against trafficking. Particularly relevant to political will and solutions is the End Modern Slavery Initiative which received a $25 million appropriation in the omnibus spending bill passed by Congress this month.
Tech: It was a big year for the tech industry. Justin Dillon, founder of Slavery Footprint and Made in a Free World, launched FRDM to help businesses identify risky suppliers. Furthermore, Partnership for Freedom launched a $500,000 challenge for tech solutions that help identify and address trafficking in supply chains.
The Violence Against Women Act expires at the end of September. Demand its reauthorization.
More witnesses have come forward in the ongoing Portsmouth, OH trafficking case.