The crime of human trafficking is now the world’s second most prevalent crime (behind drug trafficking). According to Kevin Bales, Disposable People, there are more sex slaves today than there were slaves in the 19th century. Sex trafficking is, in many respects, worse than drug trafficking because drugs can be sold only once, but those who are trafficked can be sold repeatedly, often twenty to thirty times a day. Further, the criminal networks who offer children and women as sexual commodities, and those who purchase their sexual services are highly unlikely to get caught. If they do, they are even less likely to be prosecuted. Sex trafficking is one of the few crimes where the victim is the one who is arrested and prosecuted.
President George W. Bush made it a priority to end human slavery by establishing the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP) in the United States State Department, encouraging the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), and using his bully pulpit to urge the eradication of “modern-day slavery.” As a result, the United States is the world leader in addressing the scourge that ensnares hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children and women.
The original TVPA’s emphasis on ending the demand for prostituted women and children put the focus where it belonged, on the criminals and johns who were bringing in over $10 billion a year by using human beings as commodities. In other words, the legislation focused on punishing pimps, not arresting prostitutes. Each reauthorization of the TVPA tightened gaps in victim protection, perpetrator prosecution and domestic and international efforts to abolish the slave trade. This year’s TVPA is historic legislation that would greatly strengthen anti-trafficking efforts; it passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 405-2.
Sadly, when the bill went to the Senate, several factions (including, amazingly, the Department of Justice) succeeded in gutting the House bill. Ultimately, the Senate version of the legislation (S. 3061) contains major problems: