Trafficking in Sex: Turning the American Dream Into a Nightmare

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Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee
Representative Ward Loyd, Chairman
House Bill 2004
Senate Judiciary Committee
Senate Bill 151
Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow, Concerned Women for America

Dr. Crouse has spent over a decade working to combat sex trafficking by serving in two national task forces and working to pass national legislation [the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) and its 2003 reauthorization] that would increase efforts worldwide. She also works as a nongovernmental organization representative with the State Department in its efforts. In addition, she conducts research and analyses, writes articles, conducts media interviews, and provides commentary. She has twice been an official U.S. delegate to the United Nations where sex trafficking has been at the top of the agenda. She is currently director of a federal grant to provide training to Mexican leaders to combat trafficking into the United States through its Southern borders.

Every year by estimates of the United States State Department, between 14,000 -17,000 children and women are brought into the United States for what the President has called “modern-day slavery.” Some estimates run as high as 50,000 per year. Sex trafficking is a scourge that is little known among most Americans because it happens under the “radar” of public scrutiny and off the beaten pathways of polite society — primarily in the sleazy parts of our cities, on the side streets of our towns, in trailers off seldom-traveled rural roads, and in shacks located in isolated areas of the nation’s countryside.

We cannot combat this terrible crime unless we recognize that it is happening and learn about its victims who are primarily vulnerable children and women who are preyed upon by very sophisticated networks of evil criminals who are making nearly $10 billion a year — much of it used to finance organized crime – and there are documented ties to terrorism. The United Nations estimates that trafficking in persons is one of the top three sources of revenue for organized crime (behind drugs and weapons). The human beings lured into being trafficked end up in prostitution, sweatshops, farms, domestic work or other forms of involuntary servitude. Most are treated brutally and repeatedly degraded. Over half of the victims end up trafficked for sexual exploitation; some are forced to serve up to 30 men a day. Millions are trafficked within their home countries.

The toll on individuals caught in this tragedy is terrible enough; that toll is compounded by the broader impact — the human and social toll — disease, drug addiction, physical and emotional damage, sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, social breakdown, loss of educational opportunity, productivity and earning power. Plus, the nature of the crime — preying on the most vulnerable, the world’s poorest and most hopeless children and women — is unconscionable and despicable.

It is important to note that the fight against sex trafficking heated up only four years ago when President Bush established an office in the State Department to address the problem and the U.S. government got serious about the “three P’s”– prosecution, protection and prevention. We also address the “three R’s” of compassion for victims — rescue, removal and reintegration. For the first time, there is a record of convictions for perpetrators as well as hotline, shelters and rehabilitation programs for victims. Last year (2004), there were 153 on-going trafficking investigations being conducted in the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division (two times more than three years earlier). Since 2001, the U.S. Department of Justice has charged more than 150 human traffickers and secured convictions for 109 defendants; that is twice the number of those convicted during the previous four years. With more than 240 anti-trafficking programs in over 75 countries (2003 figures), at a cost of nearly $150 million, the United States is providing training, educational and awareness programs, equipment for law enforcement, shelters, crisis centers, safe houses, counseling and rehabilitation programs.

Currently in the United States, there is an interagency cooperative effort — called the Senior Policy Operating Group on Trafficking in Persons (SPROG) — where cabinet-level personnel work together to coordinate efforts to be maximally effective in ending trafficking in persons. The group includes: Federal Law Enforcement, the Attorney General, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Immigration and Customs Enforcement Bureau (ICE), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of Labor (DOL), the Department of Defense (DOD), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

The United States has also passed the PROTECT Act making it a crime for any person to enter the U.S., or for any citizen to travel abroad, for the purpose of sex tourism involving children. Such crimes can result in 30-year prison terms and the act has already jailed pedophiles. Our government has committed $50 million to end sex trafficking and is leading international efforts.

We have learned much about the problem over the past four years. One tragic lesson we have learned is that our efforts are not always keeping up with the growth of the problem.

That is why House Bill 2004/Senate Bill 151 is so important.

Trafficking in persons is a human rights violation and every major city in America is affected. Many states have experienced problems similar to the two recent well-publicized incidents in Kansas.

The U.S. gets victims through both Canada and Mexico as well as through immigration at major airports. Canadian officials estimate that around 1,500 to 2,200 persons are trafficking through Canada into the U.S. every year, though observers think that these numbers significantly understate the problem.

We know that, at the present time, there are 25 distinct Russian organized-crime groups operating in the U.S., with 250 pending investigations targeting Russian gangs in 27 states.1

Five people have been accused of planning to traffic two Chinese women to Arkansas.2 In Pennsylvania, a lawyer was charged with imprisoning two Honduran women that he met through magazine ads. He is also accused of abusing the women’s children in his home as well as imprisoning other foreign women. His home had bars on the windows and deadbolts on the doors.3

At least five Latvian women were trafficked to Chicago; they were held in slavery-like conditions and forced to strip in nightclubs. The women would earn as much as $600 per night, but were forced to give all but $20 to the traffickers. The State Attorney General in Ohio reported that in the more than 2,500 youths reported missing in that state; more than 60 percent are considered “endangered” and usually end up as prostitutes.4

The much smaller city Minneapolis has more strip clubs than larger-city Chicago, and the city has at least 200 escort services, including street dwellings called “chicken shacks” where quick prostitution activity is conducted. Social workers report that Korean-run massage parlors and saunas and Vietnamese- and Spanish-speaking sex industries are more underground, but are located even in rural southwestern Minnesota towns. There is known pimp pressure on the migrant farm workers from Mexico and large domestic trafficking rings. Both Georgia and Florida are known areas where women trafficked from abroad are set up in brothels and where sex industries are dependent upon trafficked women.

In early February 2005, a Michigan couple was indicted for keeping a 14-year-old Cameroonian girl in involuntary servitude. Frequently, such criminals promise the American dream to vulnerable girls and women and then, when the victims are under their control, the perpetrators abuse and degrade them. In New Jersey, five teens from Mexico were forced into prostitution after being lured into the U.S. with expressions of love, promises of marriage and a good life in America. Instead, the girls were given false birth certificates, were not allowed to leave the premises, and were abused and forced to work as prostitutes.

Clearly, trafficking in persons is, as President Bush stated at the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2003, “a special kind of evil in the abuse and exploitation of the most innocent and vulnerable.”

Through House Bill 2004/Senate Bill 151, the Kansas Legislature is leading the way in the United States to increased awareness of the evil phenomenon of modern-day slavery and, through its legislation, is making it possible to bring an end to this crime that is causing so much tragedy for so many vulnerable children and women.

End Notes

  1. Barbara Starr, “Former Soviet Union a Playground for Organized Crime: A Gangster’s Paradise,” ABC News, 14 September 1998.
  2. Associated Press, 8 July 1998.
  3. Associated Press, 16 August 1997.
  4. “Danger for Prostitutes Increasing, Most Starting Younger,” Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio), 21 September 1997.

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