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Land, others ask White House to reverse itself on sex trafficking

WASHINGTON (BP)–Southern Baptist ethics agency head Richard Land and others from widely diverse organizations have called on the Clinton administration to reverse its efforts to liberalize international sanctions against the sexual exploitation of women and children.

Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and other conservatives, as well as feminist leaders, have written to administration members expressing opposition to the United States’ support for a new definition of sexual exploitation that calls for concerted action by the international community only against traffickers involved in “forced prostitution” rather than prostitution. This change would, in effect, rescind a 1949 United Nations agreement requiring its signers to punish those who exploit for prostitution any person, “even with the consent of that person,” according to the letters.

Millions of women and girls have been coerced or lured into prostitution, especially from underdeveloped countries, the opponents of the administration policy contended. This new definition set forth in United Nations negotiations in Vienna, Austria, would not protect these women and children from the exploitation they suffer no matter how they enter the multi-billion dollar sex trafficking industry, the policy opponents say.

In a Jan. 7 letter to Hillary Clinton, Land and five others said the administration position “appears clearly based on the assumption that ‘voluntary’ prostitution is a legitimate career option for women.” This new policy, if approved in a Jan. 17 vote in Vienna, “would create the loophole long sought by those [traffickers] and will effectively insulate them” from criminal prosecution, according to the letter.

They wrote to her, the signers said, because Clinton is co-chair of the President’s Interagency Council on Women, which they say has shaped the administration’s position on international sex trafficking. While she spoke forcefully against such trafficking of women and girls in October, the administration position contradicts those statements, the letter said.

Earlier, feminist leaders wrote Secretary of State Madeleine Albright expressing similar concerns. They told Albright the administration-supported definition “would not cover some of the most common methods of sex trafficking which prey on and profit from the economic desperation of women, girls and their families by securing their ‘consent’ to sale in prostitution.”

On the Jan. 10 broadcast of the radio program he hosts, Land called the administration’s policy an “outrageous and immoral position.”

“I have seldom been more outraged at the behavior of the government that represents [Americans] overseas and at home than I am at this very moment,” Land said on “For Faith and Family.”

“It is absolutely appalling that the United States of America, under the Clinton administration’s leadership, is being put in a position of arguing for legalized prostitution. … To think that prostitution is to become a legitimate form of labor is beyond the pale of all that is decent, of all that is moral, of all that is right and stands directly in opposition to everything that the United States of America has stood for through all of its history.”

Land called for those in agreement to contact the White House and their U.S. senators and representatives to express their opposition to the administration position.

In a Jan. 10 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, William Bennett and Chuck Colson criticized the White House position, saying if it “does not reverse its course, its actions in Vienna will be counted as yet one more shameful act committed by this deeply corrupt administration.”

Bennett, a former secretary of Education, is co-director of Empower America, and Colson is chairman of Prison Fellowship.

Joining Land on the ERLC letter to Clinton were Colson; Bill Bright, president of Campus Crusade for Christ; Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard University law professor; Kay Cole James of the Heritage Foundation, and Diane Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

Among those writing to Albright were Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women; Gloria Steinem, founder of Ms. magazine; Eleanor Smeal, president of The Feminist Majority, and Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

In arguing for a new definition, the United States has sided with The Netherlands, which has legalized prostitution. Opposing the change have been Argentina and other developing countries, which understand their women and children will be impacted the most, the opponents of the new policy said.

In their letter to Clinton, Land and the others protested the administration’s opposition to legislation intended to combat sex trafficking and urged her to support it. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act, H.R. 3244, passed the House of Representatives International Relations Committee with bipartisan support but has not been voted on by the full House.