The War on Human Trafficking: U.S. Policy Assessed

The War on Human Trafficking: U.S. Policy Assessed

The War on Human Trafficking: U.S. Policy Assessed

The War on Human Trafficking: U.S. Policy Assessed


The United States has taken the lead in efforts to end international human trafficking-the movement of peoples from one country to another, usually involving fraud, for the purpose of exploiting their labor. Examples that have captured the headlines include the 300 Chinese immigrants that were smuggled to the United States on the ship Golden Venture and the young Mexican women smuggled by the Cadena family to Florida where they were forced into prostitution and confined in trailers.

The public's understanding of human trafficking is comprised of terrible stories like these, which the media covers in dramatic, but usually short-lived bursts. The more complicated, long-term story of how policy on trafficking has evolved has been largely ignored. In The War on Human Trafficking, Anthony M. DeStefano covers a decade of reporting on the policy battles that have surrounded efforts to abolish such practices, helping readers to understand the forced labor of immigrants as a major global human rights story.
DeStefano details the events leading up to the creation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the federal law that first addressed the phenomenon of trafficking in persons. He assesses the effectiveness of the 2000 law and its progeny, showing the difficulties encountered by federal prosecutors in building criminal cases against traffickers. The book also describes the tensions created as the Bush Administration tried to use the trafficking laws to attack prostitution and shows how the American response to these criminal activities was impacted by the events of September 11th and the War in Iraq.
Parsing politics from practice, this important book gets beyond sensational stories of sexual servitude to show that human trafficking has a much broader scope and is inextricable from the powerful economic conditions that impel immigrants to put themselves at risk.


As a journalist, I realize that many good stories evolve from serendipity. That is what happened during my trip to Romania in the summer of 2000. July of that year happened to be particularly hot: temperatures rose higher than one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Humidity was also high, and drought conditions persisted, making life in Bucharest uncomfortable. So on one particularly sweltering afternoon I retreated to the bar in the Sovitel Hotel and ordered a Coke to quench my thirst.

I had taken only a few sips of my drink when my cell phone chirped. The caller was Iana Matei, a Romanian woman whose name I had been given a few days earlier and who had learned I was looking for her. After introductions I told her that I was interested in the work she had been doing with women in Eastern Europe who had been employed as prostitutes. I explained that I was in the country on a working holiday to research for my newspaper, Newsday, a series of stories about the international smuggling of women for the sex industry. I thought her perspective and experience would prove important to the project, and I was correct.

In the city of Pitesti, located some seventy miles away from downtown Bucharest, Matei ran a hostel for women who had been prostitutes. Most, if not all, of the women living in her “Reaching Out” facility had left Romania at various times in search of work abroad, only to find themselves working in brothels or as topless dancers and hostesses in seedy bars. Some got as far as Italy and Turkey; but most wound up in other Balkan countries such as Albania, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Granted, some of the women, ranging in ages from sixteen to twentynine years old, knew they would wind up in the sex business. But many more, Matei explained, didn't expect what turned out to be numbing submission to an unanticipated number of sex partners each day. In the eyes of Matei and many other human rights activists, the women at the hostel had been tricked, inveigled, and coerced into lives as prostitutes. At the time, the average . . .

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