Last week while in an internal meeting with some of my colleagues at The Wolf Group, I experienced another instance of communication and curiosity which led to more knowledge. One of my partners, Mishkin Santa, was discussing some pro-bono work that the firm does to assist victims of human trafficking. I was somewhat shocked for two reasons. First, I wasn’t aware that we were providing this service and second, I had never given thought to potential income tax issues associated with these victims.
Before I did some reading, my knowledge about human trafficking was (and still is) minimal. I assumed that it occurred in emerging nations where the rule of law is weak. While that is largely true with an estimated 25 million victims trapped in modern day slavery resulting in $150 billion in profits, it is also estimated that approximately 50,000 victims are trafficked in the U.S. each year. My thoughts also never progressed beyond what victims endure and how traffickers are punished. I did not think about what happens after the victims is freed and hopefully, the trafficker is punished.
This is where Mishkin’s story starts. He began volunteering many years ago in the Dallas Volunteer Program. He was an attorney at the IRS at the time and the program was to assist people who needed help with tax issues. With The Wolf Group’s expertise assisting non-US taxpayers, a focus of the pro-bono efforts was to provide to the victims of human trafficking.
In most cases, the victims are brought to the U.S. and when they gain their freedom, they want to stay in the U.S. They are most often single, young women or children. Often, they receive settlements or awards which may or may not be taxable. They may have foreign bank accounts which create disclosure issues and often, they don’t have any tax identification. Mostly, they are scared and not very trusting of anyone except perhaps the attorney that helped them. We know about the tax needs because that is what we have witnessed but as you can imagine, these victims have a great many needs that last long beyond when they gain their freedom.
In an article by Janina Pescinski titled A Human Rights Approach to Human Trafficking, she writes that “A core component of a human rights approach is ensuring equal protections to all victims of trafficking regardless of their gender, age, or field of work.” This seems obvious but is often not the approach taken by governments. “In the United States, national trafficking laws are heavily focused on criminal prosecution of traffickers. When addressing trafficking as an issue of organized crime, victims of trafficking can easily be made the instruments of criminal investigation.” In this context, the victim’s rights are secondary to another policy objective, that being prosecution. And one can therefore understand why I and probably many, see the victims release from slavery and the prosecution of the traffickers as the end of the story when, in fact, the challenges for the victims continue. Although we can’t solve these issues ourselves, I believe that more people having greater awareness and perspective on any issue is a step in the right direction toward creating solutions.
This week’s selection is:
Radio Garden is a non-profit Dutch radio and digital research project created by the Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision. According to Jonathan Puckey, one of the leaders behind the project, the objective is to connect listeners with distant cultures and re-connect people with their roots. It’s also fun to click around the globe and find radio stations across the world.