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Fighting the Scourge of Trafficking in Women and Children

  • Hon. Christopher H. Smith
    US












House of Representative

107th Congress, First Session

Mr. Speaker, tonight I want to highlight our nation’s efforts to fight, and hopefully end, the scourge of trafficking in women and children. Earlier today, International Relations Committee held an important hearing on the implementation of anti-trafficking legislation I authored, and which was signed into law last Congress.

 

As the Prime Sponsor of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, H.R. 3244, I was pleased that our legislation attracted unanimous bipartisan support in both Houses of Congress, and was signed into law just over one year ago. We succeeded not only because this legislation is pro-woman, pro-child, pro-human rights, pro-family values, and anti-crime, but also because it addresses a horrendous problem that cries out for a comprehensive solution.

 

Each year as many as two million innocent victims, of whom the overwhelming majority are women and children, are brought by force and/or fraud into the international commercial sex industry and other forms of modern-day slavery. The Act was necessary because previous efforts by the United States government, international organizations, and others to stop this brutal practice had proved unsuccessful. Indeed, all the evidence suggests that the most severe forms of trafficking in persons are far more widespread than they were just a few years ago.

 

My legislation was designed to give our government the tools we believed it needed to eliminate slavery, and particularly sex slavery. The central principle behind the Trafficking Victims Protection Act is that criminals who knowingly operate enterprises that profit from sex acts involving persons who have been brought across international boundaries for such purposes by force or fraud, or who force human beings into slavery, should receive punishment commensurate with the penalties for kidnapping and forcible rape. This would be not only a just punishment, but also a powerful deterrent. And the logical corollary of this principle is that we need to treat victims of these terrible crimes as victims, who desperately need our help, compassion, and protection.

 

As the implementation of this important legislation moves forward, success will depend, in large part, on the development of a large coalition of citizen organizations that are out there on the streets helping these victims day in and day out. The problem is simply too big for any one, or even several, governments to tackle alone.

 

That is why I am so pleased to learn that outside advocacy and relief organizations are continuing to join the fight against human trafficking. Father Stan DeBoe, with the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, CMSM, is one such civic leader who deserves special recognition of his efforts, and the efforts of the CMSM. The CMSM, for those who are unfamiliar with their work, serves as the leadership of the Catholic orders and congregation of the 20,000 vowed religious priests and brothers of the United States. The CMSM is the voice of these Catholic priests and brothers in the U.S., and also collaborates with the U.S. bishops and other Catholic organizations which serve the Church, and our society. I have included, as part of the Record, a recent resolution jointly adopted by the CMSM and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, LCWR, on August 26 during a conference in Baltimore, Maryland.

 

Like all laws, however, this law is only as good as its implementation. And, frankly, I have been deeply concerned at the slow pace of implamentation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. A year after enactment of this legislation, the State Department office, which is designed to be the nerve center of our diplomatic efforts to engage foreign governments in the war against trafficking, has only recently begun to get up and running. No regulations have yet been issued which will allow victims to apply for the visas provided by the Act. And many other important tasks remain undone.

 

I do not say this to complain or criticize. I know that many things move too slowly in the first year of a new Administration, and that since September 11 our attention and resources have been diverted elsewhere, but to emphasize that from now on, we do not have a minute to spare.

 

I should also say that I am profoundly encouraged by the fact that the Administration has been able to recruit Dr. Laura Lederer to bring her expertise and commitment to the State Department’s anti-trafficking effort. Dr. Lederer is generally regarded as the world’s leading expert on the pathology of human trafficking, and the Protection Project which she headed has provided the factual and analytical basis for most of the work that has been done so far to combat human trafficking. Throughout the long process of consideration and enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, Laura was our mentor and our comrade-in-arms. I commend Under Secretary Dobriansky, for this important choice.

 

Finally, I want to emphasize the principles behind the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. I take second place to none in my commitment to workers’ rights, but this is not a labor law and it is not an immigration law, it is a comprehensive attack on human slavery, and especially sex slavery. It emphatically rejects the principle that commercial sex should be regarded as legitimate form of “work.”

 

I know that a number of officials in the previous Administration disagreed with the approach we took in this bill, and that many of these officials are career employees who still work in the government, but the Trafficking Victims Protection Act is the law of the land, and we now have a President who has made clear that he agrees with us on this fundamental question. So I hope and trust that in implementing the law, in making grants, in staffing offices and working groups, in seeking partners and advisors in this important effort, this Administration will rely on people who fully support the law they are implementing, rather than on those who never liked it and who may seek to evade or ignore some of its most important provisions.

 

What we need to make this law work are “true believers” who will spare no effort to mobilize the resources and the prestige of the United States government to implement this important Act and shut down this terrible industry, which routinely and grossly violates the most fundamental human rights of the world’s most vulnerable people.

 

Resolution Opposing Trafficking in Women and Children:

STATEMENT OF RESOLUTION

LCWR and CMSM stand in support of human rights by opposing trafficking of women and children for purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor, and will educate others regarding the magnitude, causes, and consequences of this abuse.

 

RATIONALE

1. At their May 2001 plenary session in Rome, the International Union of Superiors General, leaders of more than 780 congregations of women religious having a total membership of one million, endorsed a resolution opposing the abuse of women and children, with particular sensitivity to the trafficking and sexual exploitation of women. UISG resolved that this issue be addressed from a contemplative stance as an expression of a fully incarnated feminine spirituality in solidarity with women all over the world.

 

2. An LCWR goal is to work for a just world order by using our corporate voice and influence in solidarity with people who experience poverty, racism, powerlessness or any other form of violence or oppression. A CMSM goal is to provide a corporate influence in church and society.

 

3. The Platform for Action of the UN Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, 1995, included the strategic objective to eliminate trafficking in women and assist victims of violence due to prostitution and trafficking.

 

4. Each year between 700,000 and 2 million women and children are trafficked across international borders, with more than 50,000 women trafficked into the U.S. (UISG papers) CALL FOR SPECIFIC ACTION

 

1. Deepen our understanding of the realities of trafficking and its integral relationship with poverty, male dominance, and the globalization of trade.

 

2. Join with UISG as they call for specific days of international prayer, contemplation, and fasting to unite religious in prayer throughout the world.

 

3. Encourage education about trafficking, prostitution, and workplace slavery in sponsored schools, colleges, and universities and in adult educational ministries.

 

4. If feasible, collaborate in applying for federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services in implementation of HR 3244 to provide services to victims of trafficking.

 

The Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM) serves the leadership of the Catholic orders and congregations of the 20,000 vowed religious priests and brothers of the United States, ten percent of whom are foreign missionaries. CMSM provides a voice for these communities in the U.S. church and society. CMSM also collaborates with the U.S. bishops and other key groups and organizations that serve church and society.

 

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has approximately 1,000 members who are the elected leaders of their religious orders, representing 81,000 Catholic sisters in the United States. The Conference develops leadership, promotes collaboration within church and society, and serves as a voice for systemic change.

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