Sex Slave Trade Enters the U.S

By Edwards, Catherine; Harder, James | Insight on the News, November 27, 2000 | Go to article overview

Sex Slave Trade Enters the U.S

Edwards, Catherine, Harder, James, Insight on the News

Women and children from across the world are being taken captive and sold as sex slaves by International crime rings, but a new U.S. law seeks to stop the slave traders.

The profits from a growing global sex trade in women and children soon will be the world's most lucrative illegal activity if a new U.S. law doesn't change the situation. "Human trafficking is the third-highest illegal-income source in America today behind drug-and gunrunning," notes Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan. "The dark side of human trafficking is that, unlike drugs, [sexually enslaved] human beings can be resold and reused, thus making them a more profitable commodity."

The alarming growth of the sex trade prompted Brownback and Democratic colleague Paul Wellstone of Minnesota in the Senate and House members Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Sam Gejdenson, D-Conn., to sponsor legislation to monitor and combat such trafficking worldwide. The measure, known as the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, overwhelmingly passed the House in May and the Senate in July. A bipartisan conference report was published in early October and the president signed it into law three weeks later.

In recent years most government agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have used the term "trafficking" to refer to all acts involved in the movement of women and children from one country to another or within national borders for sexual exploitation or forced labor. The new law prohibits both. According to a spokesman for Wellstone, profits from this trade top $7 billion annually.

"These girls are not living the life of Julia Roberts in the film Pretty Woman" says Rachel Lloyd, the director of the New York-based Girls Education and Mentoring Service. "We work with kids who have really been abused. Not many have ever been given a chance to make something of themselves."

Smuggled into brothels in the United States with fake visas or hidden in packing cases, they often have been kidnapped, bought or lured by false employment opportunities. Beaten and raped, some do not survive even the initial brutality. Removed from even the hope of protection by family and friends, locked in airless, dark rooms, starved and beaten, they often are forced to engage in unspeakable sex acts with people whose language they don't understand.

While there is nothing new about what once was called white slavery, the last two decades have seen sex trafficking turned into a well-organized international criminal enterprise corrupting whole countries. Such traffic began to flourish in the Philippines and Thailand after the Vietnam War -- first catering to soldiers and then to sexual holidays for Japanese, American, Canadian and European men frequenting brothels in Southeast Asia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian women were targeted by these criminal enterprises.

Prior to the 1990s, many of the women trafficked into the United States came from Asia. While the nationality and character of victims now varies greatly, researchers cite a common socioeconomic profile of the women caught up in this trade. Often they are desperate young people in search of opportunity, livelihood and sometimes even a means to survive. The breakup of the Eastern bloc, for instance, created economic dislocation and destitution for many young women that made them vulnerable to the ploys and schemes of brothel owners and traffickers. Porous borders, globalization and cooperation among criminal syndicates also contributed to the explosive growth during the last decade, say leading experts.

Marie Jose Ragab sees the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ensuing growth of organized crime in Eastern Europe as landmark events in the proliferation of sex trafficking. As the international director for a dissident chapter of the National Organization for Women, she has spent years looking at issues related to sex trafficking. "Before, it was through mail-order brides and making trips to Thailand and Asia," Ragab says of the international sex trade. …

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