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President Bush signs bill targeting sex trafficking, says U.S. has ‘duty’ in fight

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush signed into law Jan. 10 a bill strengthening the campaign against worldwide trafficking in people, especially the effort to combat the sex trade in the United States.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, H.R. 972, became law in a signing ceremony at the White House after receiving congressional approval in December without recorded opposition. The Senate approved the measure by unanimous consent Dec. 22, eight days after the House of Representative passed it in a 426-0 vote.

The new law reauthorizes and expands the original 2000 law focused on international human trafficking, but it includes a measure targeting purchasers of illegal sex acts and the traffickers who exploit victims domestically. That provision, 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.

It is estimated as many as 20,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year. The End Demand measure 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, including the establishment of residential care centers for underage children. 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.

“America has a particular duty to fight this horror because human trafficking is an affront to the defining promise of our country,” Bush said in a six-minute speech before signing the legislation. “In today’s world, too often human traffickers abuse the trust of children and expose them to the worst of life at a young age. Human traffickers operate with greed and without conscience, treating their victims as nothing more than goods and commodities for sale to the highest bidder.

“[W]e cannot put the criminals out of business until we also confront the problem of demand,” the president told the audience, which included Barrett Duke, vice president of public policy for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Those who pay for the chance to sexually abuse children and teenage girls must be held to account.”

ERLC President Richard Land said, “… everyone who is concerned about the sexual victimization of children and women should applaud the enactment of this legislation. It significantly increases the ability of authorities to go after the pimps and the customers who exploit these young women and children sexually and in such horrific ways. The so-called End Demand aspects of this legislation are pioneering in many ways and hopefully will go a long way toward helping to end the terrible sexual exploitation going on in our nation.”

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.

In a written statement, Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., sponsor of the reauthorization bill, said, “Make no mistake, this law will protect women and young girls at home and abroad and is a victory for victims of this abhorrent crime. With this new law, the victims of this terrible crime know they are not forgotten.”

Rep. Deborah Pryce, R.-Ohio, sponsor of the End Demand measure in the bill, said in a written release after the signing ceremony, “A nation that stands for the freedom and dignity of every human being cannot tolerate the degradation and exploitation of the innocent occurring on our own soil. This needs to be a national priority, because it is a global outrage.”

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.