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Congress gives final approval to bill aimed at sex trafficking

WASHINGTON (BP)–Congress has adopted legislation to combat the global problem of sexual trafficking in women and children.

The Senate approved the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act without dissent, five days after the measure passed the House of Representatives. After the Senate’s action, President Clinton said he would sign the legislation into law.

Both houses had passed versions of anti-trafficking legislation, but differences in the two required a conference committee of members from the Senate and House to negotiate a bill for final approval. The conference report approved 95-0 by the Senate and 371-1 by the House contained additional pieces of legislation, including the Violence Against Women Act.

The anti-trafficking measure is designed to help thwart an international problem that has only recently gained the attention of the American government. It is estimated more than 700,000 women and children a year are taken across international borders and coerced into prostitution. About 50,000 women and children are brought into this country each year in the sex trade, according to experts on the issue.

The sex trade has become a profitable enterprise for organized crime, witnesses have testified at congressional hearings. Victims who have survived sexual slavery have described kidnappings, druggings, beatings, sexual assaults and forced abortions as common parts of their experiences.

The bill provides new punishment for convicted traffickers in the United States and promotes their prosecution in other countries. It also provides assistance to trafficking victims, including establishment of a new form of visa.

The legislation creates an office in the State Department to monitor and fight trafficking. It also establishes minimum standards that countries must meet in seeking to eliminate trafficking and calls for identification of those governments that do not meet the standards. The president is able to apply sanctions on aid to countries that fail to meet the standards, but he has the authority to waive such actions for a variety of reasons.

The measure covers all forms of slavery, but its prime focus is on the sex trade.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission was part of a diverse coalition of organizations working for anti-trafficking legislation.

“I think this legislation will be an example to other nations of how to strengthen the prosecution of the perpetrators and how to assist women who have been harmed by this tragic abuse,” said Shannon Royce, the ERLC’s legislative counsel. She lauded Sens. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., and Paul Wellstone, D.-Minn., and Reps. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., and Sam Gejdenson, D.-Ct., for their efforts as lead sponsors of the legislation.

“This is the most significant human rights legislation this Congress,” Brownback said in a written statement. “This bill challenges the largest manifestation of modern-day slavery worldwide.”

The House approved the conference report Oct. 6, while the Senate passed it Oct. 11.