Students actively interested in social justice were introduced to ways of combating the widespread trafficking of human beings during a panel discussion at Yale Law School Monday night.

Each of the three panelists participating in the discussion was particularly knowledgeable in one central aspect of human trafficking. Sealing Cheng, an anthropology professor at Wellesley College, is an expert in the academic subjects surrounding the issue; Laura Lederer, a senior adviser on trafficking in persons to the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs, discussed the U.S. government’s take on human trafficking; and Human Rights Watch and ACLU member Mie Lewis addressed the issue from the viewpoint of trafficking survivors. The speakers debated the suitability of the U.S. government’s anti-human trafficking policy and discussed the merits of restrictive immigration and anti-prostitution policies.

Lewis said she thinks the U.S. government’s attitude towards the traffic of human beings has often been very narrow-minded and restricted to its links with prostitution. She said the United States should pay closer attention to other forms of trafficking, and should place more emphasis on the reintegration of victims into society rather than the prosecution of the criminals.

“According to the United States’s vision, human trafficking is predominantly sex trafficking and profoundly linked with HIV/AIDS and prostitution,” Lewis said. “The U.S. regime weakly acknowledges the human rights view, but is dictated by its prevailing view, backed by statistics, even though some people have rejected them.”

The United States passed the Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act in 2000, which increased the penalty for human traffic perpetrators from a maximum of five years in prison to between 20 years and life-long imprisonment, Lederer said. The legislature also recently created a T-Visa for human trafficking victims to immigrate legally to the United States, she said.

Addressing these policies, Lewis said the fact that victims must comply with the judiciary in order to gain the T-Visa under the TVPA is a manifestation of the government’s tendency to prioritize criminal prosecution over the integration of survivors into society. But Lederer said she thinks the law aimed for an expansion of the definition of human trafficking, and that the emphasis placed on prostitution was necessary in order for it to gain the support it needed to pass.

“This law was a pragmatic decision to make things happen,” Lederer said. “Before, some people in the Washington area were saying we should use existing rape and trafficking laws, but this was impractical as the whole definition of trafficking needed to be broadened.”

Lederer said the Bush Administration established a cabinet-level interagency task force and created an office that publishes an annual three-tier ranking of countries based on U.S. anti-human trafficking standards. She said the ranking was aimed at offering an incentive for international cooperation.

“This is a trans-national problem, and we need trans-national involvement to help combat it,” she said. “If only the U.S. takes action, we can’t get anywhere.”

Cheng said she thinks a hard-line stance on trafficking will not necessarily help combat the problem, and that countries should look at the causes of population migrations and resolve those instead.

“A lot of the people who end up being trafficked suffer because of the unrealistic cap kept on immigration,” she said. “We are not paying attention to the political and economic disparities that cause people to flee far away in order to make a living.”

Efren Olivares LAW ’08, one of the students attending the talk, said he enjoyed the panel though he felt the debate never reached any conclusion.

“I thought it was very interesting,” he said. “I think the difference in opinion was never resolved, but it was a very informative panel discussion.”

Ruslan Dimitriev LAW ’06 said the panel taught him a lot about the fight against human trafficking.

“I found out a lot of new things in terms of the legislation of the United States and international normative framework,” he said.