National NOW Times >> Summer, 2000 >> Article
Worldwide Tragedy: U.S. Not Immune to Sexual
by Jennifer Wright, Publications
While people may think sex trafficking is not a domestic
problem, federal immigration officials say trade in slaves and indentured
servants for prostitution and other labor in the United States is
tragically common. In November 1999, the CIA completed a report that found
that 50,000 women and children from Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe
are lured to this country each year.
"It's thriving. It's very
well-organized. It's very lucrative," said Mark Riordan, head of Northern
California investigations for the federal Immigration and Naturalization
Service. "It's a worldwide problem that shows up in every major city (in
the United States)."
In the U.S., legislation has been developed
that would address the problem of trafficking into this country. A
House-approved bill, The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (H.R. 3244),
passed the Senate just before the National NOW Times went to press. An
analysis, especially of several important defects, will appear in the next
issue of the NNT.
Raising Awareness of Sex Trafficking's
NOW and other human rights organizations are bringing
the problem of sex trafficking to the attention of U.S. policy-makers.
Millions of women and children around the world are trafficked for the
purpose of sexual exploitation and forced labor. Traffickers procure their
victims in various ways, and the sexual exploitation takes numerous forms.
Some women and girls are abducted; some are deceived by offers of
legitimate work in another country; some are sold by their own
poverty-stricken parents or are themselves driven by poverty to
traffickers who profit from their desperation. Young women and girls,
anxious to seek a better life for themselves and their families, sometimes
acquiesce. They are then sold by traffickers into prostitution.
Regardless of how they are propelled into the multi-billion dollar
industry of sexual exploitation, these women and girls suffer unspeakable
human rights violations as commodities in the global trade of human
Traffickers use a variety of methods-from physical force
to tranquilizing drugs-to make these women prostitute themselves. Most
often, though, traffickers use powerful threats, telling the victims that
if they try to run away their families will be harmed or that U.S.
authorities will capture, torture and deport them. The women are often
subjected to beatings and even forced abortions.
Stumble Over Definition of Trafficking
Since January 1999, 102
countries have been meeting at the United Nations in Vienna to draft a new
Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. The Convention covers
all forms of transnational crime. Its purpose is to define areas of law
enforcement cooperation, legal procedures and other measures between
countries. As an elaboration of the Convention, an ad hoc committee is
working on the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in
Persons, Especially Women and Children.
The core and most
contentious part of the Trafficking in Persons Protocol is the definition
of trafficking. In Article 2 of the Draft Protocol, there are two
competing definitions on trafficking. Option 1, submitted by the U.S.,
limits "trafficking" to instances of abduction, force, fraud, deception,
coercion or other force-like conditions. Option 1 also distinguishes
between victims ("trafficked persons") who consent and those who do
Various women's rights and other human rights groups warned
that not only would this definition fail to protect a substantial number
of trafficking victims, but it would also shield many traffickers in the
global sex trade from prosecution.
Pam Rajput, chair of Asia
Women's Watch, opposes making consent a defense to criminal charges for
those who profit from trafficking. Rajput recalls a telling court case:
"In India there was a woman who was raped by the police officials and the
court said, 'Well she didn't shriek enough to indicate her lack of
consent.' So what is consent? This consent is a very, very dangerous kind
The United States has also submitted a definition of
"sexual exploitation" of adults as activity "for which the person does not
offer herself." The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and its
partners reject this language.
Dianne Post, an attorney in Moscow,
Russia, offers a perspective on the suggested definition. She says, "To
suggest that someone offers themselves voluntarily to 'sexual servitude'
along with prostitution or pornography is completely unacceptable. Would
they make that argument about any other group?"
A Second Option
Option 2 was originally submitted by Argentina and
has been advocated by the International Human Rights Network (IHRN), a
partnership of human rights, feminist and various non-governmental
organizations. The approach maintains consent is irrelevant: Trafficking
can occur with or without the alleged consent of the victim, and any
definition of trafficking must focus on exploitation as the basis of the
The IHRN argues that if governments allow consent as an
exemption in sex trafficking, they are contending that some sex
trafficking can be redefined as "migration for sex work" or "facilitated
For example, in a 1998 case of trafficking in Canada,
53 Asian women described situations of being sold for approximately
$16,000- $25,000 (Canadian), kept in confinement, and then made to work
off debts of approximately $40,000 (Canadian) by engaging in 400-500 sex
acts each. Because some of the women had agreed to migrate for
prostitution and had signed contracts, law enforcement agents concluded
that the women "knew exactly what they were getting into," and were
reluctant to label these cases of trafficking.
In an effort to come to a consensus on the definition
of trafficking, informal plenary sessions have been held by the ad hoc
committee on Trafficking in Persons. At the most recent, 9th session in
June 2000, Option 2 (the definition submitted by Argentina) had
disappeared from the draft protocol and none of the other options
contained the phrase "with or without the consent of the victim."
The IHRN urged delegates during the June session to protect all
trafficking victims. The current definition includes the essential phrase
"irrespective of the consent of the person." This definition confirms the
commitments of 72 countries from Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe,
and the European Union that ratified the original 1949 Convention; and
those 155 that have ratified Article 6 of the Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
industry has huge economic interests in countries such as Holland, Germany
and Australia, that have regulated or legalized 'sex work,' brothels and
pimping"said NOW Membership Vice President Karen Johnson. "It is not
surprising that these countries are demanding a narrowing of the terms
currently defining trafficking of persons. But what is the United States'
Johnson continues: "In Vienna when the delegation meets as
a whole, we must make sure that no distinction is drawn between deserving
and undeserving victims. This is a definition that will be persuasive in
legislation and treaties on trafficking in the 21st century."
urges concerned organizations and individuals to reject a definition of
trafficking based on consent. To sign onto the IHRN's statement of
support, send e-mail to: email@example.com or
firstname.lastname@example.org. Individuals should also contact the National
Representatives to the Transnational Organized Crime Convention.