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With attention focused on the war in Iraq and the impressive victory for U.S. forces in that arena, another war has not received the attention that it deserves the war for abolition of sex slaves. Trafficking in human beings is an atrocious crime one that offends all human sensibilities and is an affront to human dignity and human rights. A U.S. led war, another “coalition of the willing,” is on its way to an equally astonishing victory against an evil regime the underworld sexual trafficking mafia.

In the war to free women and children from the threat of sexual slavery, two battle victories were won this week.

On April 10, Congress passed legislation (S 151) that includes provisions that will make it easier to prosecute sex offenders and those who exploit children through sex tourism. Amazingly, repeat sex offenders could face life imprisonment. The most recognizable aspect of the legislation is the Amber Alert dimension, but the new provisions related to sex tourism are equally important for children and women. The burdens of proving “intent” related to traveling to engage in sex with a minor and the burden of proving knowledge about the age of the victim have been eased and the penalties have been increased. These new provisions strengthen authorities in their efforts to protect victims and prosecute the criminals who are getting rich off the misery and horrendous exploitation of children and women.

On April 9, the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs heard testimony reviewing U.S. policy on sexual trafficking of women and children in East Asia and beyond. The underground trade in human beings is largely an under-the-radar-type of endeavor common to world-class evil. Every major city in the world is a battleground where girls as young as 9 years old are forced to serve the depravities of perverts for the profit of pimps and criminals. According to the U.S. State Department more than 700,000 human beings are lured, kidnapped or trapped into the horror that is sexual slavery. The good news, according to John Miller, director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP), is that almost all governments “are aware of this transnational problem and seek cooperative solutions.” Bilateral and regional teamwork in addressing this transnational crime holds promise, but tremendous challenges remain in the areas of protection and prevention as well as prosecution. There are systemic problems such as the involvement and cooperation of local law enforcement and public officials inherent in this multi-billion dollar industry that hamper the war to eradicate sexual trafficking, but for the first time, there is hope for its eradication.

During fiscal year 2002, the United States spent over $11 million for anti-trafficking programs in the East Asia Pacific region and impressive programmatic successes resulted. The work of Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky, the leadership of John Miller, director of the TIP office, and the advice and expertise of Dr. Laura Lederer are enforcing the provisions of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and providing the necessary expertise and resolve. Their combined efforts are sending a clear message about the seriousness of TIP legislation: that those countries that fail to make progress in the trafficking war, those countries that remain in Tier 3 of the TIP report, will “face the loss of non-humanitarian and non-trade related aid.”

At the recent United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey and I, (a private sector delegate appointed by President Bush) worked on one of the Commission’s two focuses: sexual trafficking of girls and women. Several nations wanted to de-link prostitution and sexual trafficking by identifying prostitution as a positive career-option for women and calling prostitute, “sex workers.” There were efforts, too, to minimize the impact of pornography on the demand for prostitution and trafficking. The United States held firmly to President Bush’s policy, stated clearly in his February Presidential Directive, that prostitution and related activities are inherently harmful and dehumanizing and that they contribute to trafficking in persons and sex tourism.

The Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, the United States Agency for International Development and other government entities and non-governmental organizations (including Concerned Women for America) are joining forces in the war against sexual trafficking. The problem is much broader than the tragedy unleashed on masses of young, innocent girls. As Donna Hughes, Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island, said so effectively in her testimony before the House Subcommittee on April 9, trafficking is inextricably linked to AIDS, a world-wide pandemic where condoms, a Band-Aid solution at best, are offered to the public and in brothels as the only solution for personal and societal safety. Amazingly, many public health workers consider it sufficient to provide condoms and medical services to girls and women in sexual captivity, ignoring the fact that they are in bondage to pimps and criminals. House bill 1298, the so-called Global AIDS bill, has a provision thanks to Congressman Chris Smith that will prevent these funds from going to groups that do not oppose prostitution and sexual trafficking.

The “coalition of the willing” in the war against sexual trafficking is building, its forces are getting better informed, better trained and better prepared. The fight is becoming increasingly more sophisticated as implementation strategies are better targeted. The outcome is more hopeful as political resolve is firming up and the coalition is becoming more broad-based and effective. But there are still challenges from those who want to normalize prostitution and fail to see the links to sexual trafficking. There are challenges from those who excuse military and police involvement and remain ignorant of the sex tourism aspect of the problem. There is also a challenge in that the extent of the problem in the United States is virtually unknown among our citizenry, yet 50,000 women and girls are trafficked into America every year.

Gary Hagen, President of the International Justice Mission, calls sexual trafficking the “ugliest and most preventable man-made disaster in our world today.” He tells of going into a brothel to investigate a sex trafficking ring and promptly being offered for a very modest price, a dozen children between the ages of 6 and 12 for sexual services. Hagen also claims that the industry thrives only because authorities tolerate its presence. We’ve got to find all those who profit from the scourge of sexual trafficking and we must prosecute and convict them and all those who help them do their ugly work.

While I was in New York recently, a cab driver asked why I was there. When I explained that I was at the United Nations working to combat sexual trafficking, he grunted incredulously and said that if the police really wanted to do something about the problem all they had to do was talk to cab drivers. On any given night, he said, cab drivers could identify dozens of young girls and women who were obviously controlled by pimps; he said that they didn’t speak English, didn’t know where they were, where they were going and were scared numb and speechless. They were, he said, practically zombies because of the obvious abuse they suffered and the way they were being used. That cab driver was disgusted with the authorities for letting the practice continue.

Several days later, I intentionally brought the subject up with the driver of the cab taking me to the train station for my trip back home. That driver got progressively more angry as I asked questions and finally shouted at me that there was no way to prove anything. He went on and on about how proof is necessary and police ought not to snoop around cab drivers. He was obviously very uncomfortable with my questions, though they were objective, merely curious questions that were asked in a dispassionate tone of voice and in a non-confrontational manner. He stopped two blocks short of my destination, dumped my suitcases out in the street, grinned at me struggling to right my luggage, grabbed his fee, jumped back in his cab and sped off.

We’ve yet to uncover all the dimensions and the extent of the problem, but we will. We must!

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