Sarah Mendelson is USAID’s deputy assistant administrator of the Bureau of Democracy, Conflict & Humanitarian Assistance.  This item was originally posted at FTS Blog

Last week, the White House hosted the annual Presidential Inter-Agency Task Force (PITF) on counter-trafficking in persons (C-TIP).  This high-level meeting, chaired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is an opportunity for leadership throughout the Administration to reaffirm our commitment to combatting trafficking in persons, outline steps taken, and those to come.

This was my second time attending the PITF, and this year I was especially proud when USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah announced the Agency’s new policy on Counter-Trafficking in Persons (C-TIP) (pdf), delivering on a promise he made to Secretary Clinton a year ago.

This policy draws on the best practices from the last decade and input from experts around the world.  It places a premium on learning and evaluation so we can make sure we’re pursuing the most effective approaches; focuses on innovation and technology, using the same tools traffickers use to, in this case, raise awareness of the dangers of TIP, provide trainings, and support victims; and champions the need to create exciting and effective partnerships because no one person, organization, or agency can tackle this issue alone.

Perhaps most critical, it elevates the Agency’s focus on C-TIP in conflict and post-conflict contexts.   As someone who has worked in this arena for over a decade, research shows that TIP is significantly higher in and around conflict and crisis-affected regions—whether during war, peacekeeping operations, stabilization efforts, or following a natural disaster.

Widespread sex trafficking of women and girls in conflict and post-conflict settings is an unfortunate and prevalent reality.  There is also an increased danger for children, separated from parents and caretakers during conflict or crisis, to be forced into child labor.  The good news is that countries recovering from crisis or conflict often have greater political space for tackling challenges and instituting change. USAID will target this particularly acute period of need and moment of opportunity with specialized and enhanced interventions.

USAID is serious about these issues.  Last December, the Agency worked with the White House, Department of State, Department of Defense, and civil society groups at home and abroad to launch the first U.S. National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace, and Security.  The United States now joins 34 countries around the world with plans in place.  This is only the beginning.  USAID is hard at work on an implementation plan, and we look forward to collaborating and elevating our efforts to combat TIP.

In addition to our external efforts, USAID is also walking the walk internally.  This C-TIP policy builds on our 2011 Counter-Trafficking Code of Conduct that advances the highest ethical standards of our personnel, contractors, and grantees.  USAID will provide staff trainings on C-TIP and actively recruit more champions, building an Agency-wide network of C-TIP experts.  We will also educate contractors and grantees on how to recognize and respond to TIP, prohibitions on trafficking and the procurement of commercial sex, and the available disciplinary measures for documented violations. The Agency reserves the right to terminate grants and contracts if contractors, grantees, or sub-recipients engage in prohibited conduct.

Finally, during last week’s PITF, Administrator Shah also announced the launch of a campus challenge to combat trafficking in persons, an exciting partnership to engage new, innovative ideas on prevention and protection.  Stay tuned for more details on this collaborative effort, which we hope will be a real opportunity to not only raise awareness about trafficking in persons on U.S. college and university campuses, but work with them to combat it.

USAID has made tremendous progress in the past year on C-TIP and I’m already looking forward to next year’s PITF, where we can share how we’ve turned our policy into action, announce concrete deliverables, and make new commitments to combating this horrific crime.  We hope all our partners inside and outside the government will hold us accountable.