Worldwide Tragedy: U.S. Not Immune to Sexual Slavery

Article excerpt

While people may think sex trafficking is not a domestic problem, federal immigration officials say trade in slaves and indentured servants for prostitution and other labor in the United States is tragically common. In November 1999, the CIA completed a report that found that 50,000 women and children from Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe are lured to this country each year.

"It's thriving. It's very well-organized. It's very lucrative," said Mark Riordan, head of Northern California investigations for the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service. "It's a worldwide problem that shows up in every major city (in the United States)."

In the U.S., legislation has been developed that would address the problem of trafficking into this country. A Houseapproved bill, The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (H.R. 3244), passed the Senate just before the National NOW Times went to press. An analysis, especially of several important defects, will appear in the next issue of the NNT.

Raising Awareness of Sex Trafficking's Horrors

NOW and other human rights organizations are bringing the problem of sex trafficking to the attention of U.S. policymakers. Millions of women and children around the world are trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation and forced labor. Traffickers procure their victims in various ways, and the sexual exploitation takes numerous forms.

Some women and girls are abducted; some are deceived by offers of legitimate work in another country; some are sold by their own poverty-stricken parents or are themselves driven by poverty to traffickers who profit from their desperation. Young women and girls, anxious to seek a better life for themselves and their families, sometimes acquiesce. They are then sold by traffickers into prostitution.

Regardless of how they are propelled into the multi-billion dollar industry of sexual exploitation, these women and girls suffer unspeakable human rights violations as commodities in the global trade of human beings.

Traffickers use a variety of methodsfrom physical force to tranquilizing drugs-to make these women prostitute themselves. Most often, though, traffickers use powerful threats, telling the victims that if they try to run away their families will be harmed or that U.S. authorities will capture, torture and deport them. The women are often subjected to beatings and even forced abortions.

Global Efforts Stumble Over Definition of Trafficking

Since January 1999, 102 countries have been meeting at the United Nations in Vienna to draft a new Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. The Convention covers all forms of transnational crime. Its purpose is to define areas of law enforcement cooperation, legal procedures and other measures between countries. As an elaboration of the Convention, an ad hoc committee is working on the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.

The core and most contentious part of the Trafficking in Persons Protocol is the definition of trafficking. In Article 2 of the Draft Protocol, there are two competing definitions on trafficking. Option 1, submitted by the U.S., limits "trafficking" to instances of abduction, force, fraud, deception, coercion or other force-like conditions. Option 1 also distinguishes between victims ("trafficked persons") who consent and those who do not.

Various women's rights and other human rights groups warned that not only would this definition fail to protect a substantial number of trafficking victims, but it would also shield many traffickers in the global sex trade from prosecution.

Pam Rajput, chair of Asia Women's Watch, opposes making consent a defense to criminal charges for those who profit from trafficking. Rajput recalls a telling court case: "In India there was a woman who was raped by the police officials and the court said, 'Well she didn't shriek enough to indicate her lack of consent. …