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Remarks by Christopher H. Smith on the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005

  • Hon. Christopher H. Smith
    US












House of Representative

109th Congress, First Session

Mr. Speaker, 5 years ago when Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the United States assumed a leadership role in combating the modern-day slavery known as human trafficking. As chief sponsor of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, or TVPA, helped transform the way governments and the private sector around the world respond to human trafficking.

 

Enactment of H.R. 972, the reauthorization of the act, will ensure that we continue to make progress and significant in-roads. Along with many new initiatives, H.R. 972 also reauthorizes appropriations for fiscal years 2006 and 2007 for anti-trafficking programs of all relevant Federal agencies.

 

It is worth noting, Mr. Speaker, that in the past 4 years twice as many people in the United States have been prosecuted and convicted for trafficking than in the prior 4-year period. I would note parenthetically in my own State, Christopher Christie, the U.S. Attorney, has gone after one group of traffickers after another, Russian mobsters and those who have trafficked women in from Latin America, and has gotten convictions while simultaneously liberating the women from this scourge of modern-day slavery. Worldwide, more than 3,000 traffickers were convicted last year, a significant increase from the previous year. These numbers reflect an increasing number of countries adopting the laws necessary to combat trafficking and having the political will to implement those laws.

 

I would also note that since 2001, more than 800 survivors of trafficking in the United States have been found eligible for assistance. More than 400 victims have received a T visa. Likewise, in many countries, victims–mostly women and young girls–are now receiving shelter, job training, and critical medical assistance.

 

Just a few weeks ago, my wife and I were in Lima, Peru, and went to a trafficking shelter and saw young women who had been trafficked, who were now getting life skills, but also getting the kind of medical and psychological assistance to get their lives back together again.

 

Without a doubt, Mr. Speaker, much has been accomplished; and yet an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people are still being trafficked across international borders each and every year. Possibly millions more are trafficked internally within the borders of countries.

 

Upon enactment, title I of this bill would continue to fight against international trafficking. H.R. 972 will put pressure on international organizations to implement reforms needed to tackle the unconscionable situation of peacekeepers or other international workers being complicit in trafficking and sexual exploitation.

 

I would point out that on December 6, the OSCE adopted a decision calling on States to prevent peacekeepers from being complicit in trafficking or abusing in a sexual way the local population. We only have to remember what happened in the Congo, where little 13- and 14-year-old girls were raped by U.N. peacekeepers, and that is as recent as just a few months ago. Thankfully, there is a zero tolerance policy now; and, hopefully, it will have real meaning in the field.

 

Indeed, as confirmed in an October report by Refugees International, peacekeeper reform has not been implemented at some U.N. missions in places such as Haiti and in Liberia because of a deep-seated culture of tolerating sexual exploitation.

 

H.R. 972 would also require the annual Trafficking in Persons report to include information by groups like the U.N., the OSCE and NATO to eliminate involvement in trafficking by any of the organizations’ personnel. We know we can recount one instance after another where in-country when they are in a very authoritative position these personnel, peacekeeping and non-peacekeeping alike, have exploited the local population.

 

Under H.R. 972, the Secretary of State would also report to Congress before voting for a peacekeeping mission about the measures taken to prevent and, if necessary, punish trafficking or sexual exploitation by peacekeepers.

 

To ensure that our own house is in order, the bill would create criminal jurisdiction over Federal employees and contractors for trafficking offenses committed overseas while on official business.

 

The bill will also focus the State Department, USAID and DOD on improving trafficking prevention strategies for post-conflict situations and humanitarian emergencies in which indigenous populations face a heightened vulnerability to violence.

 

The legislation also would amend the criteria used in the annual TIP report, or Trafficking in Persons report. The new criteria will include consideration of governments’ efforts to reduce demand for prostitution, to prevent sex tourism, to ensure that peacekeeping troops do not exploit trafficking victims, and to prevent forced labor or child labor in violation of international standards.

 

Unlike transnational cases of trafficking, few governments are yet willing to recognize internal trafficking within their own borders. Even in the United States, Mr. Speaker, American citizens and nationals who are trafficked domestically, often from one State to another, are still viewed through the lens of juvenile delinquency, rather than victims of crime, worthy of compassion and assistance.

 

Title II of H.R. 972 shines a new light on our own domestic trafficking problem. Enactment of this bill will begin to shift the paradigms so that these exploited girls and women will receive assistance that they so desperately need.

 

I would like to thank my good friend and colleague, Deborah Pryce for her good work on this provision. The gentlewoman from Ohio (Ms. Pryce) was the author of legislation, the End Demand Act, and those provisions are in this legislation, mostly intact, and I want to thank her for her leadership in doing that. It will make a difference for many American girls, mostly the runaways who are then victimized by the traffickers; and I certainly appreciate her work on this.

 

The bill’s domestic provisions, Mr. Speaker, respond to a very real need, and I will give my colleagues one example. On December 6, there was an article in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that said that Seattle has become a major hub on the child trafficking circuit. The article states: “Despite Seattle’s extensive network of services for youths, there is one 15-bed temporary shelter, it is the only place, other than a jail cell, where children trapped in prostitution can find respite, albeit brief. There is nothing in the city, or even in Washington State, dedicated to helping young people permanently free themselves from sex work.”

 

We find that is the case all over the country, including my own State of New Jersey.

 

Having seen this void, again, this legislation responds. It also provides money for a pilot program under the Department of Health and Human Services to help these victims of trafficking.

 

The bill also, Mr. Speaker, enhances State and local efforts through grants to encourage the enforcement of anti-trafficking and anti-prostitution laws, re-education programs, modeled after what they call “john schools” for people arrested for soliciting prostitution, and training for law enforcement on how to work compassionately and effectively with trafficked persons. All of the funded programs will involve collaboration between law enforcement agencies and NGOs.

 

Again, I would just like to thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their work on this legislation: Chairman Sensenbrenner, who marked this legislation up and wrote some very, very good provisions; again, I mentioned Chairman Pryce who, again, was so effective in getting the domestic language into this bill; Chairman Hunter, Chairman Barton, Chairman Hyde, my good friend and colleague, Mr. Lantos, who is ever a great friend and colleague when it comes to anything dealing with human rights and, in particular, on human trafficking.

 

I also want to thank our Republican leadership, particularly Majority Leader Blunt and Mike Pence, who were original cosponsors, along with almost 100 Members of the House, both sides of the aisle, that have joined in to make this legislation possible. I also want to thank a number of staff members who were instrumental in getting this bill to the floor: Eleanor Nagy, Director of Policy for the Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations Subcommittee of the committee I serve as chairman; Maureen Walsh, to my left, General Counsel of the OSCE, or Helsinki Commission; Renee Austell; Jack Scharfen; and David Abramowitz. Again, David and I worked with Joseph Reese, way back when the first bill was enacted, and he did yeomen’s work on writing provisions and working with us. Dr. King as well for his great work. Katy Crooks from the Judiciary Committee. And Cassie Bevin from the Majority Leader’s Office. There are just so many people who have corroborated on this, and I want to thank them for their tremendous work.

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