- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 31, 2004

According to the State Department, each year an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders and forced into prostitution or to work in quarries, sweatshops and farms, as domestics or child soldiers. The United Nations says that human trafficking is now the third-largest source of income for organized crime, after arms and drugs. Our government estimates that more than half of all victims trafficked internationally are trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Up to 17,500 of these people — mostly young women — are brought into the United States annually. They are lured by promises of legitimate jobs, only to find themselves trapped in sexual slavery or other forms of involuntary servitude.

Until recently, victims have been afraid to come forward, fearful of criminal prosecution and deportation. But thanks to the 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith, New Jersey Republican, women who assist prosecutors can receive a special class of Visa — the T-Visa — to remain in the United States and receive the same services and counseling that are provided to refugees. This legislation is useful in combating the problem.

The Bush administration recently hosted the first-ever national training conference for law enforcement officials on human trafficking in Tampa, where the president announced several noteworthy initiatives — including $14 million to law enforcement to help human trafficking victims, $4.5 million for organizations to assist victims, a Florida state law criminalizing human trafficking, new training resources and new interagency cooperation to ensure the timely delivery of benefits and services to victims. “Human life is the gift of our creator — and it should never be for sale,” Mr. Bush said at the conference. He later added, “This is more than a criminal justice matter. It’s a struggle for the lives and dignity of innocent women and children.”

Democratic critics say that Mr. Bush’s proposals are simply election-year rhetoric. But Donna Hughes, professor of women’s studies at the University of Rhode Island, tells us that she applauds Mr. Bush for addressing not only the supply side of the problem — the policy of the Clinton administration — but also the demand side of the equation.

The Bush administration has provided more than $295 million to support anti-trafficking programs in more than 120 countries. Last year at the United Nations, Mr. Bush asked other countries to get serious about the issue. Also last year, he signed the Protect Act, which allows U.S. law enforcers to prosecute — without having to prove prior intent — Americans who engage in sex with minors while traveling abroad. Since 2001, the Justice Department has prosecuted 110 traffickers, triple the number prosecuted in the three years prior.

We applaud Mr. Bush and his resolve, as demonstrated by both his actions and his speech: “The message is getting out. We’re serious. And when we catch you, you’ll find out we’re serious. We’re staying on the hunt.” Policy-makers and law enforcement officials should continue to fight this injustice on multiple fronts.

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