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Administration takes additional steps to stop sex traffickers

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Bush administration is taking steps to thwart the worldwide problem of sexual trafficking.

A day after President Bush called on the United Nations to help victims of this form of slavery, Department of Justice and Customs officials announced what is apparently the first indictment under a federal law designed to combat sex tourism.

The federal government will prosecute Michael Clark, 69, of the Seattle, Wash., area for violating the Protect Act, which Bush signed into law in April, according to The Washington Post. Police in Cambodia arrested Clark in June for sexual relations with two boys. Clark, a United States military veteran, has admitted to federal investigators he has been paying underage males for sex in the Southeast Asian country for several years, according to a complaint in a Seattle federal court, The Post reported.

The Protect Act, which consists of numerous provisions to prevent the exploitation and abduction of children, includes a measure calling for as much as a 30-year prison sentence for convicted operators and patrons of child sex tours overseas and in the U.S.

Bush called sex trafficking and other forms of slavery a “humanitarian crisis” that is “hidden from view” during his Sept. 23 U.N. speech. While most of his address concerned the United States intervention in Iraq, he called on the global community to help the 800,000 to 900,000 human beings each year who “are bought, sold or forced across the world’s borders.”

“Among them are hundreds of thousands of teenage girls, and others as young as five, who fall victim to the sex trade,” the president said. “This commerce in human life generates billions of dollars each year — much of which is used to finance organized crime.”

Bush acknowledged the problem in the United States, which is estimated to be a destination for 18,000 to 20,000 trafficking victims each year. He referenced legislation the United States has enacted to fight the problem and added, “Today, some nations make it a crime to sexually abuse children abroad. Such conduct should be a crime in all nations.

“We must show new energy in fighting back an old evil. Nearly two centuries after the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, and more than a century after slavery was officially ended in its last strongholds, the trade in human beings for any purpose must not be allowed to thrive in our time,” Bush said.

Shannon Royce, consultant to the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called Bush’s speech “one more demonstration of his commitment to protect the weakest and most vulnerable people in the United States and around the world. Women and children trafficked into sexual slavery are often deceived by promises of a better life in another country and then trapped without a way of escape. We commend President Bush for his commitment to human life and human dignity.”

Bush’s U.N. speech came two weeks after he announced his actions in response to this year’s State Department trafficking report. Ten of the 15 countries given the poorest rating made significant progress after the report’s June release and avoided sanctions, the president announced Sept. 10. The countries whose efforts garnered a recommendation from Secretary of State Colin Powell for a better grade were Belize, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Dominican Republic, Georgia, Greece, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Suriname, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

Burma, Cuba, Liberia, North Korea and Sudan remained on tier three, the lowest level, for their failure to meet the law’s minimum standards for the eradication of trafficking and for their failure to make progress in doing so. Sanctions will be imposed on Burma, Cuba and North Korea, Bush announced. He declined to sanction Liberia and Sudan, deciding some aid to the countries would further the law’s goals or be in America’s national interest.

This is the first year the president has been required by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to decide on sanctions toward countries on tier three. The law, enacted in 2000, provided new punishment for convicted traffickers in the United States and promoted their prosecution in other countries. It also provided assistance to trafficking victims, including establishment of a new form of visa. The measure created an office in the State Department to monitor and fight trafficking. While it covered all forms of slavery, the law’s prime focus was on the sex trade.

Trafficking normally involves victims who are trapped into commercial sexual exploitation, such as prostitution and pornography, or labor exploitation, as in sweatshops, construction sites, farms or homes, or forced marriages.

Clark is one of thousands of Americans who travel each year for sex with children in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe, a Customs agent said Sept. 24, according to The Post.

In another action Sept. 24, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee approved by voice vote a bill expanding protection for trafficking victims and reauthorizing for two years the three-year-old law.

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