Combating human trafficking and modern day slavery at home and abroad brings all of us together in a fight for what is right and what is just. Regardless of political party, race, ethnicity, class, or religion, each and every one of us are moved by the survivors’ horrific stories of being forced into sexual slavery, labor, marriage, and service as child soldiers. 

A few years ago, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) cited Metro Atlanta as a major hub for human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. My constituents, from too many different backgrounds to count, come together time and time again on the behalf of these victims of unspeakable crimes. These activists are inspired survivors, health professionals, parishioners, parents, retirees, students, businesspersons, and just regular people who are overwhelmed by the suffering of so many — most of whom are women and children.  

In 2008, I urged House and Senate leaders to overcome unnecessary hurdles, and pass the legislative roadmap — the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act — which was signed by President George W. Bush. After the bill was signed into law, we worked in a bipartisan manner to ensure that the key federal agencies which fight domestic and international modern day slavery had the tools and resources they needed.

Before this important legislation was set to expire last year, I again wrote House and Senate leaders during Domestic Violence Awareness Month to urge action. Unfortunately, there was none. But in this letter I recommended a return to bipartisanship on the issues which define our values — not as Democrats or Republicans — but as a people.  

I wrote about how human trafficking is one of the most prolific areas of international criminal activity, and more individuals are enslaved today than during the entire period of the transatlantic slave trade. Because of these grim statistics – and in light of my concerns about Atlanta in particular — I coauthored H.R. 2522, the congressional Commission on the Abolition of Modern-Day Slavery Act, a bill that was incorporated into the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008.

I believe we all must work together not only to end this terrible assault on humanity, but also to punish the perpetrators, and to help the survivors heal. On National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, each and every elected official, business person, parent, teacher, religious leader, public servant, and private citizen must ask ourselves what we can do to fight for the dignity and self worth of those who have been stripped of that one fundamental right — their freedom.

Congressman John Lewis represents the 5th Congressional District of Georgia, which includes Metro Atlanta and the surrounding cities. As a Senior Member of the Ways and Means Committee, Congressman Lewis uses his seniority to address modern day slavery and labor rights in trade, health, and social programming policies. Additionally, Rep. Lewis is an active Member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, and the congressional caucuses on Human Trafficking, Victims’ Rights, Missing and Exploited Children, and Labor and Working Families.