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In letter, ERLC’s Land urges candidates to support anti-trafficking legislation

WASHINGTON (BP)–Southern Baptist ethics leader Richard Land has called on the leading presidential candidates to support legislation to combat human trafficking and to make the issue a priority in their campaign platforms.

In a letter, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission urged Sens. Hillary Clinton, D.-N.Y., John McCain, R.-Ariz., and Barack Obama, D.-Ill., to promote an enhanced anti-trafficking measure that is awaiting a vote in the Senate. The House of Representatives approved the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act in a 405-2 vote in December, but the Senate has yet to act on it.

McCain has clinched the GOP nomination, but Obama and Clinton are still contending to represent Democrats in the fall election.

The bill “will build on our already tremendous successes internationally and also enable us to deal more decisively with trafficking in our own country,” Land wrote to the senators. “Through this bill the federal government will be better able to assist the states in their efforts to eradicate sex trafficking by choking it at its core -– the pimps and suppliers of women and girls.”

The measure also will aid in the rescue of women and children who have been trapped in sexual slavery, he said in the April 14 letters.

About 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year, according to the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Office. This does not include millions of victims who are trafficked within their own national borders, the office says. About 80 percent of the transnational victims are females, and as many as 50 percent are minors. The data show the majority of those trafficked across international borders are victims of sexual exploitation.

The TIP Office has estimated as many as 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has mounted a campaign against the bill. Land was among 150 conservatives, moderates and liberals who signed a March letter to two Senate committees in which they disagreed with what they described as DOJ-generated complaints from state and local officials. Land and the others said the opposition letters demonstrate “an underlying premise that ‘ordinary’ sex trafficking is a largely victimless crime, and an assertion that the Wilberforce Act seeks to impose morality rather than deter vicious, enslaving crime.”

Supporters of the House-approved bill say it would make the following improvements in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act passed in 2000:

— It would make sure the law regards “proof of fraud, force, or coercion, and the use of minors by sex traffickers,” as the bases not for conviction but for heightened punishment.

— It would connect domestic with international trafficking in order to combat both more actively.

— It would empower the TIP Office to influence other governments to act more aggressively against trafficking.

The legislation is named after the evangelical Christian who led the effort in Parliament year after year to outlaw the British slave trade, a campaign that finally succeeded early in the 19th century.
Compiled by Baptist Press’ Washington bureau chief Tom Strode.

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