- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2001

House Speaker Dennis J. Hastert and 87 other members of Congress wrote to President Bush yesterday urging that he immediately implement a new law intended to address the international trafficking in women.

"Any delay [in implementing the law] would likely result in more injured, exploited and even dead women and children," said the letter, which was also signed by House Majority Leader Dick Armey and Henry J. Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee.

The Washington Times reported on Sunday that hundreds of thousands of Eastern European women are lured into jobs as prostitutes in Western Europe, the United States and elsewhere. Ukraine alone estimates that 400,000 of its women have been sold into prostitution in the last decade.

These women face brutal punishment and sometimes revenge against their families if they try to escape, The Times was told. Those who do manage to escape often are arrested and prosecuted by authorities in Western Europe.

Advocates for the women say there are economic incentives for the governments of both the exporting and importing countries to ignore the trafficking in women.

The House members' letter said that the trafficking in humans has become the third-largest source of profit for organized crime after drugs and guns, and that more than 1 million people many of them women and children are trafficked each year. Some 50,000 of them are brought to the United States.

"The purpose of this legislation is to protect vulnerable people both here and abroad especially women and girls from the cruelty of rape, forced prostitution and other forms of violence and degradation," the letter said.

"The need for [the bill] and its immediate and aggressive implementation is absolutely compelling."

The legislation's primary sponsor, Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, said in a statement that the law "includes grants and tough new penalties up to life in prison for those who traffic women and children [in the United States], while offering refugee protection for the victims."

Specific elements of the bill, known as "The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Act of 2000, would:

• Provide $95 million, over two years, for enforcement of anti-trafficking provisions and for new assistance programs.

• Provide provision for relief from deportation for victims who would face retribution or other hardship if removed from the United States.

• Prohibit non-humanitarian U.S. assistance to foreign governments that tolerate or condone severe forms of trafficking unless the prohibition is waived by the president.

Separate portions of the bill are directed against the physical abuse of women in the United States and at discouraging repeat offenses by persons convicted of rape and murder.

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