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Fighting human trafficking in U.S., around
the world an ‘uphill battle,’ advocate says

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. (BP)–The third largest criminal activity in the world is growing, church leaders, social groups and politicians were told at a recent conference on human trafficking.

More than 200 people from across the country attended the second Preventing Abuse Conference to network and learn how to combat the “evil practice” of human trafficking, as described by President Bush in a letter to conference attendees.

“It’s getting worse,” said Tony Nassif, president of the Cedars Cultural and Educational Foundation, which sponsored the conference. “God is asking us where we are. God gave us everything we need to fight this fight and to win it. He calls us to set the captives free.”

Annually, 600,000 to 800,000 people, mostly women and children, are used as modern-day slaves and trafficked across national borders. These numbers do not include the millions trafficked within countries, according to the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.

It is estimated as many as 20,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year.

The State Department’s 2006 Trafficking in Persons report analyzed the work of 149 countries on an issue that involves prostitution, child sex tourism and forced labor. The report showed an increase in convictions worldwide for trafficking-related offenses to more than 4,700 from 3,000 the previous year. It also reported two more countries had enacted new anti-trafficking legislation, bringing the total to 41.

Featured speakers at the Preventing Abuse Conference included Mark Larson, a radio talk show host and a spokesman for the anti-pornography group Enough Is Enough; Steve Tidwell, the assistant director of the Los Angeles FBI office; Judith Reisman, an author, lecturer and former consultant to the U.S. Department of Justice; Marissa Ugarte, executive director of the Bilateral Safety Corridor Coalition, and Laura Lederer, senior advisor on trafficking in the Office for Democracy and Global Affairs at the State Department.

Lederer said the fight against human trafficking is an “uphill battle,” adding that the crime “deprives people of the most basic human rights.”

“It’s a multi-billion dollar industry,” Lederer said at the event, which was held Nov. 13 at the Universal City Sheraton Hotel. “It’s like David and Goliath. We will take this Goliath down. David set his mind to it, and he did it.”

Recently, an 11-year-old Vietnamese girl was rescued from a 10-shack brothel in Cambodia with 60 others 6 to 17 years old, Lederer said.

Lederer gave examples of human trafficking in the United States.

“Last week there was a report about a football coach who took a 14-year-old girl from Maryland to Washington D.C. to make her a prostitute on the streets,” Lederer said. “This is just one example of thousands. A mother had sold her 14-year-old daughter into prostitution in Phoenix and then [she] was found murdered.”

In January, President Bush signed into law a reauthorization of the anti-trafficking measure, originally enacted in 2000, that included a provision to deal with the problem domestically. That provision, the End Demand for Sex Trafficking Act, focused on halting the trafficking of people, primarily women and children, in the United States for purposes of prostitution and sexual slavery.

The End Demand measure, which was endorsed by the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, was designed to aid state and local police in establishing programs to investigate and prosecute sex trafficking cases. It provides funds to assist trafficking victims, including the establishment of residential care centers for underage children.

Nassif, an author and a member of the Los Angeles Task Force on Human Trafficking and Child Prostitution, expressed hope that those in attendance would help others to become aware of the issue.

Victims are not just used for sex. They are also trafficked to work in such places as sweat shops, nail salons and massage parlors.

“We need to have our antennas up and be aware,” Nassif said.

Jeannie Oh, 28, drove from Alameda, Calif., to the conference in hopes of gleaning from others who have helped victims of human trafficking.

“My church wants to start an outreach to victims, and I wanted to learn how,” said Oh, a member of Grace Point Church in Alameda.

Faith-based organizations have the most potential of helping the survivors and victims, said Ric Lombard, chairman of the Center to Restore Trafficked and Exploited Children (CRTEC), which is based in Iowa. The organization provides a safe, secure environment for rescued children.

“I’m calling out to the faith-based community,” said Lombard, who operates from an 80-acre site. “We can meet the needs of care and restoration for victims. For those of faith, I want to challenge your heart to be a part of the solution.”

Lombard said his organization was set to receive 20 children at the end of the week who were being released from sex trafficking.

“We [faith-based groups] need to be in concert with state and national agencies in combating this,” he said.

Conference attendees were made aware of products to combat predators on the Internet, as well as efforts by state agencies and local organizations to stop trafficking.

“Collectively as a community, everybody in my neighborhood watched me on the playground when I was growing up,” Tidwell, the assistant director of the Los Angeles FBI office, said. “It was part of being a good neighbor. It was the right thing to do. Unequivocally, no one is watching the kids playing on the Internet. The playground is going unwatched.

“It will require the entire community.”

In 1999, there were 58,000 children abducted by non-family members, Reisman said.

“Half of those children were molested,” said Reisman, whose daughter was raped at the age of 10. “There will be no end. It will increase year after year.”

Children are being sold across the country through child porn chat rooms and websites.

“Looking at a suspect’s computer has become part of the job now,” Tidwell said. “I regret this has created an industry.”

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  • Kelli Cottrell