The Bush administration, working with Congress and the State and Justice departments, is organizing a war against violent international sex-trafficking and slavery rings.
Movement of women and children from one country to another, or within national borders, for sexual exploitation or forced labor is called trafficking. For the first seven months of the Bush administration its abolition has had a high priority. According to Interpol, profits from this trade top $19 billion annually. Congressional sources estimate that 50,000 persons are trafficked into the United States annually and 2 million worldwide. The United Nations puts the number worldwide at 4 million.
Investigative journalist Christine Dolan recently spent several months in Europe looking into this human trafficking for the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children. She found that not only are women and children being trafficked for sexual purposes, but also infants and toddlers. In her report, A Shattered Innocence: The Millennium Holocaust, she calls for a declaration of war on the mobsters, pimps and other criminals who are responsible.
Dolan applauds the U.S. government for what is being done to resist this exploitation but insists the problem is at the local level where law enforcement is badly in need of training. "They know the local mob, they know their neighborhood, but they don't have the specialized training to outwit these international criminals," Dolan says.
The U.S. State Department released its first Annual Trafficking in Persons Report in mid-July, as mandated by Congress last year in the Victims of Violence and Trafficking Protection Act of 2000. This law requires the State Department to expand the annual human-rights reports to cover severe forms of trafficking in persons and to create an interagency task force to coordinate efforts nationally and internationally to stop it.
Curiously, in this first report the State Department claims that only 700,000 people a year are being trafficked as sex slaves or as sweatshop workers, much lower than any other estimate. It does, however, confirm Insight's reports that many of these victims, whatever their number, are lured by promises of gainful employment in the United States, such as waitress jobs or jobs as dancers or models, only to find themselves kidnapped, raped and sold into prostitution once they arrive (see "Sex Slave Trade Enters the U.S.," Nov. 27, 2000).
Last year's legislation was the first passed in recent years to combat human trafficking. Previously the Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecuted traffickers under the old antislavery and peonage laws. The annual report it requires, say Capitol Hill sources, is supposed to monitor the problem while alerting the American people. "This report is one volley in that global fight for freedom of countless people," says Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., one of the bill's sponsors.
"International sex trafficking is the new slavery," Brownback says. "It includes the classic and awful elements associated with historic slavery, such as abduction from family and home, use of false promises, transport to a strange country, loss of freedom and personal dignity, extreme abuse and depravation."
Attorney General John Ashcroft told reporters in February that fighting sex trafficking would be a priority of the DOJ during his tenure. Only 16 cases have been prosecuted in the United States since 1999, and in mid-July the attorney general issued regulations to provide assistance and protection to victims of human trafficking while their cases are investigated and prosecuted. The new rules not only enable federal law-enforcement personnel and immigration officials to protect victims, hut they require and outline related training for DOJ and State Department personnel and mandate interdepartmental cooperation.
"The cooperative efforts of federal agencies and law-enforcement officials will help provide victims the tools and services needed to punish traffickers to the fullest extent of the law," Ashcroft told reporters. …