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Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Smith Addresses Problem of Prostitution and Human Trafficking

VIENNA, AUSTRIA – United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today delivered the following remarks concerning human trafficking before the Winter meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Representative Christopher H. Smith, United States Congress
Special Representative on Human Trafficking
for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly

Winter Meeting of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly
Vienna, February 25, 2005

Gender Equality: The Problem of Prostitution and Human Trafficking

Madame Chairperson, I would like to thank the OSCE’s Special Representative on the Gender Issue, Ms. Tingsgård, for proposing this topic for discussion in our Committee meeting today. I welcome the opportunity to discuss human trafficking issues in the context of ensuring equality between women and men as well as, specifically, the nexus between prostitution and human trafficking.

The United States Government currently estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 people become victims of international human trafficking each year, and potentially millions more are trafficked within countries. Eighty percent of victims are female; nearly 70% of all victims are trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. These statistics clearly indicate that there is a correlation between trafficking and the status of women, on the one hand, and between trafficking and prostitution, on the other.

I will address first the interrelationship between trafficking and prostitution. While prostitution and human trafficking are not identical forms of exploitation, they are nevertheless related. Prostitution fuels the market for human trafficking. Aggressive efforts to reduce the demand for prostitution, therefore, are one means of fighting the underlying demand that fuels trafficking. I would like to highlight several demand reduction measures that we, as parliamentarians, can support through legislation or oversight of government activities.

First, anti-prostitution laws and child sexual exploitation laws should be vigorously enforced against the purchasers of sexual services. As the Swedish Government has found, trafficking in human beings could not flourish but for the existence of local prostitution markets where men are willing and able to buy and sell women and children for sexual exploitation. Since 1999, Sweden has aggressively prosecuted men who purchase commercial sex acts. According to the Swedish Government, since the Act Prohibiting the Purchase of Sexual Services came into force there has been a dramatic drop in the number of women in street prostitution, in the number of men who buy sexual services, and in the recruitment of women into prostitution. Moreover, traffickers have been deterred from operating in Sweden–traffickers have had problems finding men to buy sex from the trafficked women and, as a result, their profits have been smaller than they expected. The traffickers seemingly have moved on to more lucrative markets.

A second demand reduction measure is to prevent sex tourism. It is a sad fact that some men purchase sex acts when they travel for business purposes. Others purposefully go abroad to purchase sex acts under the assumption that they will less likely be caught and arrested. In an effort to curb such “sex tourism,” which often involves the sexual abuse of children, thirty-two countries now have laws allowing for the prosecution of their citizens for crimes committed abroad. Since April 2003, U.S. law has allowed for the prosecution, in United States courts, of Americans who travel abroad and sexually abuse children. The penalty is up to thirty years in prison. Since the law’s enactment, ten men have been arrested for engaging or attempting to engage in child sex tourism.

Another demand reduction measure is to support education programs for men who are arrested for soliciting commercial sex acts. Such programs, known as John Schools, are being run successfully in the United States and Canada. This approach is complementary to enforcement of anti-solicitation laws against purchasers because it moves the men into programs designed for intervention and rehabilitation. The programs educate men, often in very graphic terms, about the harm their behavior causes to women, children, families, and communities. The first time a man is arrested for soliciting, he is offered the opportunity to attend such a program in lieu of being criminally charged. Men who attend the program pay an administrative fee that is funneled by the government back into programs to help women get out of prostitution. The John School run in San Francisco reports a recidivism (re-arrest) rate of less than one percent for the men who attend the school.

One approach that does not work to reduce human trafficking is legalizing or regulating the prostitution industry. Legalization enables traffickers and creates multiple venues for exploitation. In recent years, several European countries have legalized brothels in the name of fighting human trafficking. There have been, and currently are, legislative proposals in other OSCE countries to do the same. I urge you to consider the evidence very carefully before making such a choice. Legalization of prostitution expands the market for commercial sex, thereby opening markets for criminal enterprises and creating a legal façade behind which criminals who traffic people for prostitution can easily hide. Despite the existence of legal regulations on prostitution, organized crime groups will not register with the government, will not pay taxes, and will not protect the women and children they buy, sell and exploit. Legalization of the sex industry simply makes it easier for the criminal elements to blend in and makes it more difficult for law enforcement authorities to identify and punish the traffickers. In the United States, federal prosecutors have told us that traffickers already hide their trafficking activities under cover of the legal strip club industry in the United States and that the situation would only be worse if the prostitution industry were legalized.

Another reason to oppose legalized prostitution is that such an approach fails to address the core problem with prostitution: the abuse, violence, and degradation of those caught in its web. Few activities are as damaging to a person’s physical, mental and spiritual health as prostitution. Research conducted in nine countries, including Canada, Germany, Turkey and the United States indicates that 89% of women in prostitution want to leave prostitution. Another study in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand found that 96% of the women want to leave.

The nine country study also concluded that 60-75% of women in prostitution suffered rape, 70-95% suffered physical assaults, and 68% suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. A study in Minnesota found that 46% of the women in prostitution had attempted suicide; another found that 65% of prostituted women had attempted suicide, and 38% had done so more than once. In addition, individuals in prostitution are at tremendous risk of contracting sexually transmitted and other serious communicable and often life-threatening diseases. No amount of state licensing requirements, regulated medical check-ups, or condom use will ever eliminate these threats to women and children being exploited in prostitution.

But I would argue that the primary reason to be opposed to legalized prostitution is that women and girls deserve better. As I stated in the beginning, eighty percent of trafficking victims are female–adults and children. These statistics highlight that there is a dimension to the problem of human trafficking that has nothing to do with organized crime or even prostitution. The status of women and girls is central to this entire battle against trafficking. Women who are tricked, defrauded, or coerced into prostitution via trafficking certainly do not deserve to be abandoned in a legalized sex industry. But equally so, women who on their own became engaged in prostitution, whether they are trafficked as a part of that experience or not, more often than not made this choice out of economic desperation and often as a result of having been earlier victimized through physical and sexual abuse in their homes. Women deserve real responses to these problems. A State that responds to such women by saying that they can work legally in the sex industry has provided a response that leads only to further exploitation and abuse. Legalization is abandonment of the vulnerable.

As we continue our efforts to combat human trafficking, I urge a greater focus on the human rights violations that make women economically vulnerable, more likely to engage in prostitution, more likely to consider migration, and thus more likely to be preyed upon by traffickers. Specifically, I am referring to physical and sexual violence against women and children which is all too often ignored by legal systems and downplayed by law enforcement authorities. I am also referring to unchallenged discrimination in educational systems and the economic marketplace that contributes to women’s missed opportunities and economic distress. These and other violations of the human rights of women can result in more women being victimized through trafficking. The solutions lie in reforms like equal access to the classroom, micro-credit loans, equal pay for equal work, enforceable laws against sex, race and age discrimination, and more robust governmental responses to violence against women. These solutions can begin with actions at the legislative level and are badly needed in many OSCE states.

Thank you, Madame Chairperson, for allowing us this time to discuss these important issues.

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