A Washington sex scandal — where to begin?
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) allegedly hired underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. According to The Daily Caller, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened an investigation into this claim on August 1, 2012. It is alleged the senator hired prostitutes as young as 16. According to two women who claim to have had sex with the senator, he agreed to pay them $500 each, but ended up only giving them $100 each.
The Daily Caller quotes from the handwritten testimony of a 19-year-old involved:
“In 2009 I saw Bob [Menendez] three times at least. The first one in February, and then in May and June,” she said, according to a translated transcript of an interview with the source of the documents.
“I recall his visit in June so well because that month was my 17th birthday. Then we met twice, one in May 2010 and then in December 2011. … I was underage when I met him. But I can’t say for sure whether he knew it or not.”
If these allegations are proven to be true, Sen. Menendez is in violation of the PROTECT Act of 2003. The Protect Act made it illegal for U.S. citizens to go to other countries and engage in illicit sexual conduct, which the bill defines as a sexual act “with a person under 18 years of age that would be in violation of chapter 109A if the sexual act occurred in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States; or (2) any commercial sex act (as defined in section 1591) with a person under 18 years of age.” The punishment under the Protect Act can be up to 30 years in prison.
Now, according to 18 U.S.C. 2423 (United States Code) which is the section for the Protect Act, a defendant may utilize the defense that they did not know the prostitute they hired was under the age of 18. The PROTECT Act of 2003 also makes it clear that even if a sexual act is legal in another country, a U.S. citizen participating in it may still be prosecuted under this Act (prostitution is legal in the Dominican Republic.)
Then-Rep. Menendez voted for the PROTECT Act of 2003.
The PROTECT Act of 2003 references 18 U.S.C. 1591, which is part of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). This section of the Code is titled, “Sex trafficking of children by force, fraud or coercion.” One of the purposes of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its subsequent reauthorizations in 2003, 2005, and 2008 is to end the demand for commercial sex; in fact, end-demand efforts are one of the criteria the United States Department of State (DOS) uses to rate countries in the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.
Then-Rep. Menendez voted for the TVPA of 2000; Then-Rep. Menendez voted for the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2003; Then-Rep. Menendez was a co-sponsor of the TVPRA of 2005; Sen. Menendez began his term in the Senate in 2007, and the TVPRA of 2008 passed the Senate by Unanimous Consent; and Sen. Menendez was a co-sponsor of the TVPRA of 2011, which died in the last session.
The State Department rated the Dominican Republic (DR) as a Tier 2 nation in the 2012 TIP Report, meaning its government did not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but it is making significant efforts to bring the country into compliance. It is debatable how successful a country with legalized prostitution can be in these efforts. The minimum standards are found in 22 U.S.C. 7106 and include the country’s efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex and whether they reduce the demand for their nationals to participate in international sex tourism. The TIP Report said the DR made no effort to reduce the demand for commercial sex.
By the way, the United States is also judged by the same criteria about demand and international sex tourism, and just FYI, the U.S. receives a Tier 1 rating (the U.S. fully complies with the TVPA’s minimum standards). One of the other minimum standards countries need to meet is found in Section 7 of 22 U.S.C. 7106:
Whether the government of the country vigorously investigates, prosecutes, convicts, and sentences public officials who participate in or facilitate severe forms of trafficking in persons, including nationals of the country who are deployed abroad as part of a peacekeeping or other similar mission who engage in or facilitate severe forms of trafficking in persons or exploit victims of such trafficking, and takes all appropriate measures against officials who condone such trafficking.
22 U.S.C. 7102 defines severe sex trafficking as: “sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age.”
In another article by The Daily Caller, it appears the girls were not independent operators. The article says both girls were “brought” to the DR resort where Sen. Menendez was staying. The article says, “The other woman recounted, with apparent bitterness, receiving from an intermediary only $100 of the $500 she had been promised.”
Does the term “intermediary” mean pimp or sex trafficker? Is this the reason the FBI is investigating? If the girls have an “intermediary” who brought them to the resort and took money for providing them to Sen. Menendez, then the girls were “induced” to perform sexual acts.
In a further example of irony or arrogance, take your pick, Sen. Menendez was a co-sponsor of the Child Protection Compact Act of 2011, which died in committee. The bill’s purpose was “To provide United States assistance for the purpose of eradicating severe forms of trafficking in children in eligible countries through the implementation of Child Protection Compacts, and for other purposes.” The “Findings” section mentions, “The use of children for commercial sexual exploitation is a global phenomenon.” The bill seeks to help Tier 2 and Tier 2 Watchlist countries, like the Dominican Republic, to protect and rescue children from severe forms of trafficking in persons.
If the Child Protection Compact Act of 2011 had passed, it would have fallen under the purview of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. With Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) awaiting confirmation to become President Obama’s next Secretary of State, Sen. Menendez could become the next Chairman of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee. He would have been tasked with undertaking “child protection” efforts “to prevent and respond to violence, exploitation, and abuse against children.”
Given the allegations against Sen. Menendez, that is a frightening prospect.
If the allegations against Sen. Menendez prove true, will he be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law? Will he be labeled a hypocrite, arrogant, or a predator?
Or in the end, will it be just another Washington sex scandal brushed under the rug by fellow politicians and a fawning media?
Prostituted children around the world want to know.