Mr. Speaker, today I am introducing the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005, which is intended to improve the United States’ efforts in combating the scourge of human trafficking. I am pleased to be joined as original cosponsors by Representative LANTOS, Ranking Member of the International Relations Committee, Representative Payne, Ranking Member of the International Relations Subcommittee on Global Human Rights, International Operations and Africa, Majority Whip Representative Blunt, Commerce, Justice, State Appropriations Committee Chairman Representative Wolf, Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Representative Cardin, Representative Ros-Lehtinen, Chair of the International Relations Subcommittee on Middle East and Central Asia, and Representatives Pence, Pitts, and Faleomavaega.
Mr. Speaker, the U.S. Government now estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 women, children and men are bought and sold across international borders each year and exploited through forced labor or commercial sex exploitation. An estimated 80 percent of the victims of this barbaric trade are women and girls.
Congress and President Bush have demonstrated unprecedented international leadership in combating human trafficking through enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2003. Since taking office, the Bush Administration has devoted more than $295 million to combat trafficking worldwide.
Under the framework of the TVPA, the United States Government’s efforts to combat trafficking in persons have focused primarily on international trafficking in persons, including the trafficking of an estimated 14,500 to 17,500 foreign citizens into the United States each year.
Across the globe, governments are taking action to prevent trafficking, to prosecute the exploiters and to give hope and restoration to those victimized by trafficking. Between 2003 and 2004, twenty-four countries enacted new laws to combat trade in human lives. Dozens more are in the process of drafting or passing such laws. Moreover, nearly 8,000 traffickers were prosecuted worldwide and 2,800 were convicted. This bill would support the ongoing efforts that have made these gains possible by reauthorizing appropriations for anti-trafficking programs here and abroad.
The bill also offers solutions to a number of specific scenarios in which trafficking is a problem, but which would benefit from additional initiatives. For example, drawing lessons from the aftermath of war in the Balkans a decade ago, and the devastating tsunami in South Asia a mere few months ago, foreign policy and humanitarian aid professionals increasingly recognize the heightened vulnerability of indigenous populations in crisis situations to many forms of violence, including trafficking for sexual and labor exploitation. Traffickers also recognize this vulnerability. This bill would focus governmental efforts, particularly by the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Department of Defense, to develop trafficking prevention strategies for post-conflict and humanitarian emergency situations, strategies which do not currently exist in sufficient form.
The bill would also take further steps to ensure that U.S. Government personnel and contractors are held accountable for involvement with acts of trafficking in persons while abroad on behalf of the U.S. Government. Although few would dispute that the involvement of U.S. personnel, including members of the U.S. Armed Forces, with trafficking in persons in any form is inconsistent with U.S. laws and policies and undermines the credibility and mission of U.S. Government programs in foreign countries, there remain loopholes in U.S. laws which allow such acts to go unpunished. This bill closes those loopholes by expanding U.S. criminal jurisdiction for serious offenses to all U.S. Government contractors abroad–jurisdiction which already exists with respect to contractors supporting Department of Defense missions abroad–and by making federal criminal laws against sex and labor trafficking applicable to members of the Armed Forces and others subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The bill would also direct the Secretary of Defense to designate a director of anti-trafficking policies who would guide DOD’s efforts to faithfully implement applicable policies against trafficking.
The bill would also take on the outrageous situation of military and civilian peacekeepers, humanitarian aid workers, and international organizations’ personnel, from complicity in trafficking and sexual exploitation in connection with international peacekeeping operations. To cite but the most recent examples of this, in December, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan admitted that U.N. peacekeepers and staff have sexually abused or exploited war refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Among the 150 or so allegations of misconduct are instances of sexually abusing children, rape, and prostitution. On January 28, a senior official with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees was arrested for sexual abuse of minors and trafficking in Kosovo. The long list of allegations against international peacekeeping personnel involving sex trafficking and other forms of sexual exploitation extends back at least a decade and yet the United Nations and most other international organizations have failed to take sufficient action to end this abuse.
To his credit, Kofi Annan has promulgated a “zero tolerance” policy on sexual exploitation by peacekeepers. But words alone do not protect women and children from abuse. Earlier this week, President Bush asked Congress for $780,000,000 to pay for contributions to international peacekeeping activities this fiscal year. He has requested more than $1 billion for next year. Prior to writing this check, the bill I am introducing would require that the Secretary of State no longer accept words alone as evidence that the United Nations, NATO, and other multilateral organizations are taking seriously the responsibility to address trafficking and exploitation by peacekeepers. The bill would require that the Secretary of State certify, prior to endorsing an international peacekeeping mission, that measures have been taken to prevent and, as necessary, hold accountable peacekeepers in the mission who are involved with trafficking or illegal sexual exploitation.
In addition to a host of other measures to address trafficking overseas and to aid foreign victims in the United States, the bill also recognizes that trafficking in persons occurs within the borders of single countries, including the United States. According to the State Department, if the number of people trafficked internally within countries is added to the estimate, the total number of trafficking victims annually would be in the range of 2,000,000 to 4,000,000.
This bill would address the trafficking of American citizens and nationals within the borders of the United States–which the bill defines as “domestic trafficking.” There are no precise statistics on the numbers of United States citizens or nationals who have been victimized through trafficking, but there is great reason for concern. It is well documented, for example, that runaway and homeless children are highly susceptible to trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation. Every day in our country, between 1,300,000 and 2,800,000 runaway and homeless youth live on the streets. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have estimated that 100,000 to 300,000 children in the United States are at risk for commercial sexual exploitation in the United States, including trafficking, at any given time.
To date, U.S. victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation have been dismissed by the law enforcement community, particularly at the State and local levels, as prostitutes. Child victims are dealt with as juvenile delinquents. This bill would begin to shift the paradigm–much as we have done so successfully in the international arena–to view these exploited souls for what they really are–victims of crime and sexually exploited children.
The bill I am introducing would begin the process of developing a comprehensive strategy to prevent the victimization of U.S. citizens and nationals through domestic trafficking. It would require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to undertake a study and then a program to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in the United States, which in turn fuels trafficking for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. The bill would also authorize HHS to make grants to expand services to victims of domestic trafficking, with a priority for NGOs with experience in caring for victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
NGOs who work with trafficked children in the United States have indicated time and again that a lack of housing options for such children is a debilitating impediment to providing effective rehabilitative and restorative help. In response, this bill would require HHS to carry out a pilot program for residential treatment facilities for minor victims of domestic trafficking and authorizes the appropriation of $10,000,000 over 2 years for this purpose.
The bill would ensure that communities in the United States are fully informed about the presence of sex offenders in those communities. The bill would require that state sex offender registries include convictions in foreign court of a sexually violent offense, or a criminal offense against a child victim. The bill would also enhance State and local efforts to combat trafficking through a grants program to encourage the investigation and prosecution of domestic trafficking cases and the development of collaboration between law enforcement agencies and nongovernmental organizations.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005 would address these and many other areas of concern, would authorize funding to continue our government’s efforts against trafficking, and would build upon the experience of implementing the TVPA to refine U.S. laws and practices to better fulfill the intent of that law.
Mr. Speaker, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 and its reauthorization in 2003 enjoyed bi-partisan support in both Houses of Congress. I strongly urge my colleagues to support this bill and enhance the good work underway to combat international trafficking in persons and to ensure that our government’s response to all who are victimized by trafficking, whether foreign citizens or United States citizens, is one of deep compassion.