The U.S. State Department on July 1 released the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, which details how anti-trafficking agents had to change their strategy in the face of COVID to ensure they could still extend help to victims and protect the vulnerable.

The report showed that there was a decline in the number of countries in the highest and lowest ranked categories for fighting human trafficking globally.

According to the Baptist Press, the report showed how the U.S. and 27 other countries were placed in Tier 1, a category that represents governments in full compliance with the minimum anti-trafficking standards. Six countries who were on the list are no longer on it this year.

Meanwhile, the number of countries in Tier 3, which is defined as countries that "do not fully meet" minimum anti-trafficking standards and "are not making significant efforts to do so" decreased from 19 to 17.

The 21st annual TIP Report analyzed efforts made by up to 188 countries or territories to "address sex trafficking and forced labor," which victims are estimated at 25 million adults and children. The human trafficking industry is estimated to earn up to $150 billion worldwide annually.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) praised the State Department's report, with policy director Chelsea Sobolik saying that they are "grateful for the United States' bipartisan dedication to combating human trafficking around the globe."

Sobolik commended the report, adding that it was "the world's most comprehensive resource of anti-trafficking efforts by governments and serves as a valuable asset for those seeking to end the exploitation of the vulnerable, as Baptists are resolved to do."

The TIP report covered April 2020 to March 2021, during which the COVID pandemic "generated conditions that increased the number of people who experienced vulnerabilities to human trafficking and interrupted existing and planned anti-trafficking interventions."

The report showed how governments all over the world had funneled funds that were often used for anti-trafficking efforts into COVID pandemic response, resulting into "decreased protection measures and service provision for victims, reduction of preventative efforts, and hindrances to investigations and prosecutions of traffickers."

Meanwhile, human traffickers took advantage of the COVID pandemic to intensify preying on the vulnerable. The same was reported by a new report from the United Nations that said traffickers took advantage of the COVID pandemic by "capitalizing on peoples' loss of income and the increased amount of time both adults and children were spending online."

UNODC Executive Director, Ghada Waly said that the report is a key resource for policy-makers and criminal justice practitioners around the world because it gives unique insight on how authorities can improve investigating human traffickers in the face of a global pandemic.

Ilias Chatzis, Chief of UNODC's Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling Section that developed the new study, said, "Crime thrives in times of crisis, and traffickers adapted quickly to the 'new normal.'"