LOOKING BACK ON TWENTY YEARS OF THE TRAFFICKING IN PERSONS REPORT
This year marks a major milestone—the 20th anniversary of the TIP Report. Twenty years ago, when the United States Congress passed the TVPA mandating this report, it signaled the U.S. government’s resolve to fight human trafficking and marked a pivot from indignation to positive action. Whether used to raise awareness, spark dialogue, spur action, or create a system of accountability, the TIP Report has served to reinforce global anti-trafficking norms and ideals. At a time when many governments denied the existence of human trafficking in all its forms, the TIP Report became a standard-bearer for the principles enshrined in the TVPA and the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol (Palermo Protocol).
Throughout the last two decades, and as the availability of information on human trafficking has expanded, the TIP Report has grown in both its breadth and depth of analysis. It has consistently documented the efforts of an increasing number of governments to prosecute traffickers, protect victims, and prevent human trafficking crimes. The report has drawn attention to trends and emerging issues, highlighted promising practices, and tracked the progression of important developments, such as the passage of comprehensive anti-trafficking laws and improvements in victim identification efforts.
Over the years, the methodology, content, and design of the TIP Report have evolved, reflecting in many ways the broader anti-trafficking movement’s progress in understanding the crime. The message at the heart of each edition, however, has been steadfast: there is no excuse for human trafficking, and governments must address it with bold action.
Most of all, the TIP Report has been, and continues to be, a critical tool in bringing governments to the table and encouraging them to prioritize human trafficking. Diplomats and advocates apply pressure on governments around the world to ensure they maintain focus and hear the voices of those directly affected. Today, the vast majority of governments acknowledge the devastating effects of human trafficking, and most governments have taken steps to combat it.
The introduction this year will provide a look back at the evolution of the TIP Report.
It is a celebration of 20 years documenting progress in combating human trafficking and, as always, a candid reminder of the work yet to be done.
Human trafficking became a topic of public concern in the 1990s due, in part, to the fall of the former Soviet Union, the resulting migration flows, and the increasing concern about the growth of transnational criminal organizations operating globally. Intelligence reports pointed to sex trafficking and forms of forced labor as some of these organizations’ largest sources of profit. The first efforts to address trafficking in persons focused heavily on combating the sex trafficking of women and girls. Academic reports and news articles illustrated the effect traffickers were having on individuals and communities around the world. In 1994, the Department of State began to monitor human trafficking as part of the Department’s Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, focusing exclusively on sex trafficking of women and girls. As the understanding of human trafficking expanded, the U.S. government, in collaboration with NGOs, identified the need for specific legislation to address how traffickers operate and to provide the legal tools necessary to combat trafficking in persons in all its forms.
The 106th Congress of the United States passed the TVPA in 2000, the first comprehensive federal law designed to protect victims of sex and labor trafficking, prosecute traffickers, and prevent human trafficking in the United States and abroad. The TVPA requires the Secretary of State to submit an annual report to Congress that ranks governments’ efforts to combat trafficking in persons. The original threetier ranking system was created to indicate how well other governments complied with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking laid out in the law.
In July 2001, the Department of State published the first TIP Report. While the TVPA only called for a ranking of governments, those involved in the preparation of the first report included a brief explanation for the tier rankings to provide clarity and context to the report. The first TIP Report included 82 country narratives based on information received from embassies and consulates abroad, which gathered information including from host governments and law enforcement officials, NGOs, U.S. agencies, and journalists. It was only 103 pages long and included brief twoparagraph descriptions of each country’s efforts to combat human trafficking.
The report’s production in the early years was a monumental task for the newly established TIP Office. It required the small staff to create simultaneously both a methodology for the report and processes for gathering data, drafting narratives, and assessing government efforts. Perhaps most challenging for the TIP Office and posts overseas was the effort to gather data from other governments, many of which had never developed systematic measures for collecting human trafficking data nor shared such data before. In addition, the report would be the first of its kind to rank countries publicly on their efforts to combat human trafficking, a crime newly denounced by the international community.
At the time, inclusion in the report depended on whether there was evidence of a “significant number” of victims in a given country, though the U.S. Congress did not specify what it considered to be a “significant number.” Once the drafters of the first report received reporting from all the U.S. embassies, which included information on the estimated number of victims in each country, they determined that 100 or more victims would be the threshold number, taking into account that for small countries this would be a high threshold but for large countries a low one. The report pointed to a dearth of reliable information to explain the exclusion of so many countries and called attention to the need for more governments to develop mechanisms to detect and report on human trafficking.