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Commission Chairman: “It’s Time to Declare War on Sex Traffickers”

WASHINGTON – The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe today examined an escalating human rights problem in the OSCE region— the trafficking of women and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation. “Trafficking in human beings is a form of modern day slavery,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “When a woman or child is trafficked or sexually exploited by force, fraud or coercion for commercial gain, she is denied the most basic human rights–namely, her rights to liberty and security of person, her right not to be held in slavery or servitude, and her right to be free from cruel or inhumane treatment. In the worst cases, she is denied her right to life.

Under the laws and practices in the United States and in European countries, trafficking victims are denied an effective remedy against those who have violated their rights. Ironically, it is the women who are trafficked who end up being arrested in brothel raids, locked up and then deported as illegal immigrants while their perpetrators rarely suffer repercussions for their actions,” he concluded. “It is time to declare war on those that commit these crimes,” said Smith. “That is why earlier this Congress I introduced the Freedom from Sexual Trafficking Act of 1999, H.R. 1356, which would severely punish persons in the United States convicted of sexual trafficking, including recruitment, harboring, transporting, purchasing or selling the trafficking victim.

Non-humanitarian U.S. assistance would not be provided to foreign countries which do not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of sexual trafficking. Of critical importance is the assistance and protection that would be provided to victims of trafficking, such as the provision of shelters and rehabilitation programs for victims and limited provision of relief from deportation for victims who expose their traffickers. These are important and necessary changes to U.S. law designed to help end this brutal, inhumane, and horrific exploitation of women and children.”

Commissioner Rep. James C. Greenwood (R-PA) commented, “This is some of the most heartbreaking testimony I’ve heard.” Anita Botti, Deputy Director and Senior Advisor on Trafficking in the State Department’s Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women’s Issues testified, “Over 50,000 of these women and children are trafficked into the U.S. annually, primarily from Latin America, the former Soviet Union and South East Asia. Russia, Ukraine, Poland and the Czech Republic are major countries of origin in Central and Eastern Europe.”

Wendy Young, speaking about the threat of trafficking of refugees, reported, “Despite the lack of concrete data, disturbing reports regarding the situation of women and children are emerging, including stories of women and girls caught up in the trafficking network that was already thriving in the region, especially in Albania. For example, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and others have reported that existing trafficking rings in Vlore, Albania have smuggled as many as 10 boatloads of 40 or more Kosovars each night into Italy. The price paid for the perilous journey is approximately $750 per person, totaling up to $50,000 each night in profits per smuggler. Among their number are an unknown number of young women who are recruited or abducted by the smugglers and forced into prostitution.” Wendy Young serves as the Washington Liaison and Staff Attorney for the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children which is a program of the International Rescue Committee.

Steven Galster, Executive Director of Global Survival Network, who, between 1994 and 1996, led an undercover investigation into the trafficking of women and girls from countries of the former Soviet Union to Asia, Europe, and North America, commented, “I believe the United States Government is now moving in the right direction to combat trafficking on U.S. soil and abroad…Specifically, U.S. policy on this issue should emphasize the following components: increase public awareness [of the trafficking issue]; increase economic opportunities for women at risk; emphasize national civil rights laws and international human rights treaties in anti-trafficking enforcement activities; recall the existence of several international, anti-slavery instruments, which should be taken into account before OSCE states create new laws or agencies to fight slavery. “An effective response to trafficking would provide a victim with a stay of deportation for at least the period during which the investigation and potential trial against the trafficker takes place. Also, don’t forget that these women are potential sources of information that aid law enforcement actions against organized crime groups. But they must be guaranteed protection,” said Galster.

Dr. Louise Shelley, American University Professor and Director of the Center for the Study of Transnational Crime and Corruption, who since 1995 has conducted a program in coordination with specialists in Russia, and more recently Ukraine, on the problem of organized crime, pointed out that the main features of the trafficking problem are heavy involvement of organized crime; lack of capacity and motivation; complicity and corruption in law enforcement, passport services and consular divisions; corruption within NIS law enforcement, border guards and passport services; absence of law enforcement links; and, absence of victim protection. Among other points, she recommended that there be cooperation between telecommunications companies and law enforcement investigations in the trafficking area particularly in the American-European-Eastern European-NIS area.

“Next week,” pointed out Chairman Smith, “the U.S. delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly meeting in St. Petersburg will be advancing a resolution I have proposed calling for the governments of OSCE participating States to develop nationally and internationally coordinated law enforcement strategies to combat international organized crime, particularly the role of organized crime in trafficking of women and children. We are hopeful that the OSCE can be a valuable forum in which we can work with other governments in the region to bring an end to this demeaning, exploitive, and violent trade.”

Laura Lederer, Research Director and Project Manager of an extensive research project under way in the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, which aims to gather and disseminate information regarding laws that protect women and children from commercial sexual exploitation, noted that in studying the laws of 154 countries, “we find that the prostitution laws, which are aimed at women and children, are enforced, while the procuration laws, aimed at the traffickers, are almost never invoked.”

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