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House OKs domestic sex trafficking measure

WASHINGTON (BP)–The campaign against sex trafficking in the United States has taken a significant step forward.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved Dec. 14 a measure targeting purchasers of illegal sex acts and the traffickers who exploit the victims domestically. The End Demand for Sex Trafficking Act focuses on halting the trafficking of people, primarily women and children, in the United States for purposes of prostitution and sexual slavery.

The House approved the measure as part of a reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the legislation passed initially in 2000 to combat primarily international trafficking. The House passed the reauthorization measure, H.R. 972, by a vote of 426-0.

The Senate has yet to act on the reauthorization legislation.

The End Demand measure, which was added to the reauthorization bill by the Judiciary Committee, is designed to aid state and local police in establishing programs to investigate and prosecute sex trafficking cases. It also will provide funds to assist trafficking victims. Under the legislation, a statistical study will be conducted every two years on the problem, and a yearly conference on best practices in reducing demand for prostitution and sex slavery will be held.

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

After the House vote, Rep. Deborah Pryce, R.-Ohio, the legislation’s sponsor, said in a written release that her bill “focuses our nation’s attention internally, by seriously confronting the trafficking that goes on within our own borders and communities. Our ability to combat the problem as it occurs in other countries has limits, but our commitment to eradicating it within our own borders should have none.”

Southern Baptist public-policy specialist Barrett Duke applauded passage of the reauthorization bill and called the End Demand amendment a “vitally important section.”

“For too long, desperate women and young girls have been the sexual slaves of predatory, modern-day slave owners and disinterested, self-seeking customers,” said Duke, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s vice president for public policy and research. “Meanwhile, much of law enforcement focused only on the prostitutes, as if they were solely responsible for this tragic problem. Now, we will finally have some balance in the battle against the modern-day slave trade in the United States.

“As soon as the Senate passes the bill, the suppliers and the users of these abused women and girls will begin to feel society’s disgust of their activities,” Duke said. “Because of this legislation, I look forward to hearing that many women and girls have been freed from a life of sexual bondage. I look forward to knowing, as well, that someone’s daughter will be spared from a life of slavery and a lost future. May God help us help those who cry out for justice.”

The 2000 anti-trafficking law promoted the prosecution of traffickers, especially in other countries, and established an office in the State Department to monitor and battle the problem. It also provided assistance to victims, including the establishment of a new form of visa. While it covered all forms of slavery, the law’s prime focus was on the sex trade.

The reauthorization bill will provide $361 million during the next two years in the effort to combat the international problem, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.

Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., sponsor of the reauthorization measure, said in a written statement that H.R. 972 “strengthens and expands our efforts and allows law enforcement to continue to liberate the women and children who are forced and coerced into slavery, and should be passed as quickly as possible. The victims of this terrible crime cannot be forgotten….”

In its annual Trafficking in Persons report in June, the State Department provided the following statistics on the global problem:

— An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders yearly, not including millions who are traded within their own country.

— About 80 percent of these victims are females and 50 percent are underage.

— About $9.5 billion is generated annually by human trafficking, ranking it behind only arms and drugs as a source of profits for organized crime globally, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Victories in the fight against trafficking, according to the State Department, include:

— About 700 trafficking victims have received temporary visas in the United States since 2000.

— There were more than 3,000 convictions worldwide related to trafficking from April 2004 to March 2005.

— New anti-trafficking legislation was enacted in 39 countries in the previous year.