The United States urges countries to get serious about prosecuting traffickers, to provide shelters for victims and to crack down on prostitution. Sweden and Korea have instituted legislation imposing stiff penalties on pimps and johns. Japan is cracking down on the abuse of "entertainer visas," which have long been an excuse to import women into the country to work in brothels. And a bipartisan coalition is forming in Congress to foster tough "demand side" enforcement of U.S. anti-prostitution laws by ensuring that male perpetrators such as johns and pimps are as systematically prosecuted as are female victims.
An obstacle to the anti-trafficking cause is the fact that the cultural image of prostitution in the United States is generally a gauzy one --think of Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman." But prostitutes around the world -- and even here in the United States -- are frequently forced into it against their will. Poor, often very young women are tricked by traffickers into leaving home, then are forced into brothels. If they are in a foreign country, their passports will probably be stolen, and they won't know where to turn for help. They will likely be threatened, beaten or raped, or perhaps all three -- all in the cause of coercing them into selling their bodies.
It is an intolerable affront to human dignity. "The methods are the same as from the slave trade -- kidnappings, deception, beatings, sexual exploitation," says Miller. "You talk to these faith-based groups, and they think they are following in the footsteps of their ancestors in this country who led the abolition movement." Twenty-first-century slavery calls for 21st-century abolitionism.