Byline: Kelly Patricia O'Meara, INSIGHT
The headline read: "Bush at U.N. Condemns Terrorism, Invites Expanded U.N. Role in Iraq." It appeared over a State Department news release about a speech delivered by President George W. Bush to the United Nations on Sept. 23, as if it were a surprise that Iraq and terrorism continue to be on the president's agenda.
What did come as a surprise, shocking even to those who cover the issue, is that neither the State Department nor the national media focused on the president's remarks about sex trafficking. It may be an issue foreign to most Americans, but it has distinguished the president as the first world leader both publicly and privately to combat such continuing human slavery, certainly making an appeal to the world on this theme worthy of a headline.
As defined by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, sex trafficking is "the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act." Bush told world leaders at the United Nations that, "each year, an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 human beings are bought, sold or forced across the world's borders. Among them are hundreds of thousands of teen-age girls, and others as young as 5, who fall victim to the sex trade. There's a special evil in the abuse and exploitation of the most innocent and vulnerable. The victims of sex trade see little of life before they see the very worst of life an underground of brutality and lonely fear. Those who create these victims and profit from their suffering must be severely punished. Governments that tolerate this trade are tolerating a form of slavery."
Strong words considering that an estimated 20,000 of these victims are trafficked into the United States each year.
What has the president in mind to stop this "underground of brutality"? John Miller, director of the State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, tells Insight, "President Bush has been personally moved by this issue in a way that few issues move him. When the president made the U.N. speech, he didn't have a 10-page plan, but he wanted the world to focus on the issue. He knows what must be done and what he's called for is an additional $50 billion for combating trafficking a doubling of our spending on this issue. He's conveyed to all his departments what he said back in December with his Executive Order  that this issue is going to be a priority in every department."
Miller continues: "He's told the Defense Department, 'Hey, you better see to it that there is zero tolerance; Health and Human Services, you better be working on shelters and prevention education; State Department, you better see that you're working with countries abroad; and Department of Justice, you better see that you're stepping up prosecutions.' The president wants to see specific programs instituted, and he is particularly moved by the increase in sex tourism bringing children into sex slavery. He wants to see more money going toward this end. Our office is coming up with a plan, part of which will involve the travel industry. How can we engage airlines to work with us to educate people traveling abroad? It's got to start with education."
As Miller sees it, "Many people in the U.S. aren't aware of child-sex tourism or international slavery, period. We have to raise awareness here, and it will be a transportable program where we get developed nations working with other nations that have the sex-tourist facilities by combining both education and prosecution."
In June the State Department released the 2003 Trafficking in Persons Report (http://state.gov/g/tip/rls/ tiprpt/2003/), a several-hundred-page document providing facts and updates on the status of efforts by the world's nations to combat human trafficking. As part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, a kind of grading system (Tiers 1-3) was set up to determine whether nations may continue to receive nonhumanitarian foreign aid from the United States. …