Sex trafficking – modern day slavery – is one of the foremost women’s issues of our time. Yet this $10 billion industry, the second largest international crime, affecting approximately 800,000 people, is hardly noticed by the public. Since the majority of the victims are Black and Hispanic girls and women, it is a racial concern as well as a women’s and human rights issue.
In fact, sex trafficking is the slavery issue of our time.
Congress is working toward legislation (H.R. 3887, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2007) that will end the criminals’ exploitation and pimping of women. Many people prefer to think that the problem happens somewhere else, that it does not happen here in the United States. But the sad truth is that it is a thriving commercial enterprise that is happening right under our noses.
Several of us who are working in a broad left-right coalition against human trafficking became involved in anti-trafficking work over a decade ago when we first learned about this travesty against human beings. We have been committed abolitionists ever since. We worked on the very first Trafficking Victims Protection Act to get the focus on prosecuting those who commit the terrible crime of human trafficking rather than merely on arresting the victims (who are easily replaced and the crime continues). We worked to get provisions in the 2005 bill to end the demand for prostitutes, which I and my colleagues believe is the driving force behind sex trafficking.
Now we are working to get an even better bill to close down the traffickers, protect vulnerable girls and women and restore those who are already caught in the web of criminal sex trafficking networks.
The legislation now under consideration on Capitol Hill – H.R. 3887, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2007 – is a strong bill, but our coalition recommends several critical changes. Let me put three of those changes in the simplest possible language. I call them the MSM against sex trafficking – the Mann Act, the Survey and the Model Law:
1. The Mann Act needs to be part of the TVPA, and it should be revised so that it is not necessary to prove that the trafficker made the victim cross state lines. Such a technicality allows too many pimps to go free. Instead, it should be enough that the trafficker’s activities “affect interstate commerce.”
2. The Biennial Survey authorized in the 2005 TVPA has never been conducted, so we still have no concrete numbers about trafficking victims. That survey needs to be mandated so that the number of victims is known and law enforcement officials understand the extent of the problem.
3. The current Department of Justice Model Law should be withdrawn and its effects remediated. Currently, the law (now taking precedence over laws in 33 states) requires the virtually impossible task of proving force, fraud or coercion before a trafficker can be convicted. Most victims are too scared to testify against their pimp, so when a criminal is shown to have taken money from a prostituted girl or woman and hasn’t filed a W2 form, it is obvious that he or she IS a pimp and should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Our coalition is making history in its efforts to end the horrible crime of human trafficking. The 2007 TVPRA could make it possible to end the sex trade industry, with the sexual predators punished and victims restored to a bright future. I dream of the day when little girls will be able to play safely without having to look over their shoulders in fear. I dream of the day when vulnerable teenagers and nae and desperate women are no longer targeted by predators who view them as commodities for sexual exploitation.