Donna M. Hughes, a professor of women's studies at the University of Rhode Island, has been an activist on the issue for some 17 years. She describes the sea change over the last decade: For a while there, during the Clinton administration, she says, her fellow feminists were more interested in "sex worker's rights" than victims' suffering, and won government support for their approach. And there was little prominent outrage. Hughes remembers, "During the late 1990s, all the media stories were about how empowering prostitution was, how much money the women made, how pimps were disappearing and the women were independent businesswomen, how women in India were forming unions and collectives to fight for their rights as sex workers, etc." But, now, she notes, "the media stories more often tell horror stories of how women and girls are beaten, raped and enslaved. On the surface that may sound more depressing, but to me it is much better because it's the truth." The awareness -- in Washington and in the press -- has meant, she says, that "the truth about prostitution/sex trafficking is emerging and agencies are responding in a way that never have previously. "
Of course, we have only begun to fight. The State Department's 2005 status report -- which works on an effective tier system and promises sanctions against countries who don't fix their problem (10 of the worst-off countries immediately jumped to action), notes "the involvement of police and immigration officials in trafficking seriously hobbled efforts to free victims of their misery and prosecute those responsible for modern-day slavery. Too many law enforcement operations were unsuccessful as brothel-keepers, sweatshop owners, or traffickers were tipped off by corrupt officials." Human trafficking is an evil web that ensnares too many, with too many enablers. But abroad and at home, folks are at work, educating, investigating, enforcing and healing. This is a fight the United States is in to win because it is quintessentially what we're about as a nation. As one slave in North Korea wrote to a rescuer-pastor in South Korea: "I want to live like a human being for one day. I am a human being. How can I be sold like this? I need freedom."