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RESOURCE CENTER AND ARCHIVES

Sex trafficking a growing problemcomment (0)

March 9, 2000


The trafficking of women and children, many who are forced into prostitution, is a worldwide human rights problem that may involve 2 million people a year, including 50,000 who are brought into the United States, according to testimony before a Senate subcommittee.

One of the women who has been freed from the sex trade in this country, Inez, told senators of her ordeal in a string of brothels in Florida. The number of victims involved in sexual and other forms of trafficking began to grow in the early 1990s and now totals about 700,000 yearly across borders and from 1 million to 2 million overall, said Rank Loy, undersecretary of state for global affairs. He testified before the Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The information the subcommittee heard Feb. 22 made the problem seem even more massive:

-The victims primarily are from Asia, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Latin America and Africa.

-An estimated 1 million children, most from Asia, will be victims of trafficking this year.

-About 500,000 Brazilian children are trafficked into prostitution each year.

-An estimated 250,000 women and children from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are transported per year to other countries, including the United States.

-Almost 200,000 females from Nepal, most under 18, work in brothels in India.

Nearly “every country in the world has a trafficking problem right now,” said Laura Lederer, director of The Protection Project of Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

The trade in human beings has become so profitable that organized crime groups have shifted from trafficking in drugs to trafficking in people, said Wendy Chamberlin, deputy assistant secretary for international narcotics and law enforcement.

Traffickers succeed through either deceit or coercion, according to testimony at the hearing. Some victims are led to believe they will work in legitimate businesses and then are forced into prostitution or other labor, while other are drugged or otherwise abducted.

Inez, who testified in sunglasses and with a scarf on her head in order to disguise her identity out of fear for her safety and that of her family in Mexico, told the senators of her coercion into prostitution at the hands of a group of traffickers.

At age 18, she accepted an offer to work at a job she was told would be at an American restaurant in order to help her family financially. She was transported into Texas, then to a trailer in Florida, where she learned her fate. “I would not be working at a restaurant; instead I was told I owed a smuggling fee of about $2,500 and had to pay it off by selling my body to men,” Inez said in Spanish, with her testimony translated for senators. “I was horrified.”

With as many as four girls, some only 14 years old, working in the same trailer, each of them had sex with 32 to 35 men per day, six days a week, at $22 to $25 apiece, Inez testified. They were constantly guarded and, at times, beaten and raped by their bosses, she said. She and the other women were not allowed to leave the trailer, and every two weeks they would be moved to another trailer in an isolated area, Inez said.

After she had been enslaved for several months, agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation and local law officers raided the brothels and rescued the women, she said. Some of their captors were sent to prison, but some remain free in her hometown in Mexico and have threatened her family and those of other women, she said.

“I would have never, ever done this work,” Inez told the subcommittee. “No woman or child would want to be a sex slave and endure the evil that I have gone through. I am in fear of life more than ever. I helped put these evil men in jail. Please help me. Please help us. Please do not let this happen to anyone else.”

Shannon Royce, legislative counsel for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said “I was just horrified that this kind of trade in women and children even exists in our world today.

“As we enter a new century, I would love to see us take action to make this part of our history,” Royce said.

There is disagreement on how Congress should act to remedy the staggering problem. A House of Representatives bill, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (H.R. 3244), passed the International Relations Committee with bipartisan support, but Loy made it clear at the hearing the Clinton administration does not support the legislation’s call for economic sanctions.

“Trafficking is essentially a private” action, and sanctions would not hurt the perpetrators, Loy said. Other concerns he expressed were: Sanctions would harm victims by hurting the economies of their countries, and they would cripple the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGO) in those countries.

A leader in the NGO disagreed with Loy’s first reason for opposing sanctions. The privacy of the crime would not be a reason for rejecting sanctions in the case of drugs, said Gary Haugen, president of the International Justice Mission, which investigates reports from faith-based ministries of human rights abuses.

The key to stopping trafficking is local law enforcement, he said. (BP)

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