- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 8, 2000

Every year, around 50,000 women and children are brought into the United States for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. Trafficked into cities across the country from Washington, D.C. to Las Vegas, the victims come in search of opportunity but are forced into prostitution instead. Under new legislation sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith and signed into law by President Clinton last month, $95 million would be spent over two years to combat sex trafficking of women and children here and abroad.

Until now, when mafia sex rings tricked women and children into coming to the United States for jobs as waitresses or au pairs, the victims could be arrested for prostitution or as illegal immigrants, despite the fact that they were kept under duress in unwanted "employment." Children like Maria, who was taken from her home at age 14 in Veracruz, Mexico and placed in a trailer in Orlando, Florida, rarely actually see the money their services provide. Their money goes to pay off the "smuggling debt" they incurred upon entering the country, and they can incur further debt from the brothel owners when they need food or other personal items. Maria, who testified before the Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations, was raped multiple times during the course of her forced labor and was coerced to have an abortion.

The new law not only sets up task-forces to help monitor and prevent the experiences that victims like Maria had; it also provides prison terms of 20 years to life for the worst cases, such as those which involve children. It makes trafficking a federal crime on the same level as rape. It also provides for the victims' shelter, rehabilitation, and health needs while they are in the United States after they have been rescued. The women and children would be provided with compensation for their losses and 5,000 visas a year would be earmarked for trafficking victims.

Though prosecutors now have the legislative power they need to prioritize trying the cases, the money authorized by the bill cannot be appropriated until 2001. It is vital that Congress ensures that the money authorized for the specific programs under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act is indeed appropriated to protect and nurture those who have suffered in this awful way.

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