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On March 7, 2013, President Obama signed the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which passed Congress as an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Vice President Biden, who has a celebrated legacy championing the issue of violence against women, joined the President.

On the eve of International Women’s Day, the signing took on great significance because it demonstrates the commitment of the United States government to combating violence against women by investing in building law enforcement capacity, directing resources to service providers, and ensuring that perpetrators are held responsible. Countries worldwide look to the United States to set the standard, and the enactment of VAWA and the TVPA ensure that our government is setting a deservedly high standard.

A tactical gambit, the TVPA’s passage was anything but certain in the days preceding the bill’s consideration in the Senate and then the House of Representatives. It succeeded due to over two years of grassroots advocacy, savvy legislative maneuvering, and the concerted efforts of a loyal cadre of advocates who exploited every opportunity to move the reauthorization forward despite the seemingly insurmountable odds it faced.

Strengthening the United States’ legal framework on human trafficking ensures that it remains a global leader. After a decade of bipartisan cooperation on modern-day slavery, Congress’ bitter partisan divide resulted in its failure to reauthorize the TVPA and the subsequent expiration of the law for over one year. The outlook was bleak until Senator Leahy’s brinksmanship paid off, resulting in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 93 to 5 in the Senate. In the House of Representatives, coordination with the coalition of organizations supporting VAWA and a grassroots swell for TVPA pushed the reauthorization to its passage.

Only a week before the final showdown, Vital Voices hosted a discussion with Sunitha Krishnan, a fearless and tireless advocate for survivors of sex trafficking. She movingly described the innovative ways she engages survivors in all aspects of her organization, Prajwala, and its work: rescues, rehabilitation, livelihoods, advocacy. The women, she explained, no longer want to be “survivors,” choosing instead to identify as “aparajita,” a sanskrit name that means “undefeated.”

These women, the undefeated, drive the work of Prajwala, and inspire the advocacy we undertake at Vital Voices to demand that our government end trafficking and modern-day slavery in our lifetimes. There is so much that remains to be done.

At the signing ceremony, Obama fittingly proclaimed, “This is your day. This is the day of the advocates, the day of the survivors. This is your victory.” A raucous crowd of cheering advocates clapped, applauded, and stood undefeated.


Melysa Sperber is Vital Voices director, Human Rights.

Cross-posted with permission by TrustLaw.