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Senate approves legislation to combat sexual trafficking

WASHINGTON (BP)–The U.S. Senate has approved without objection legislation to combat the international problem of sexual trafficking in women and children.

The Senate adopted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, H.R. 3244, by unanimous consent July 27. Though the version approved by the senators was similar to the House bill passed in May, its differences will require a conference committee of members of both houses to negotiate a final measure.

The primary difference in the Senate substitute is its failure to include a provision requiring potential enforcement of sanctions against countries that fail to combat trafficking adequately. Under the House version, the president is required to act on a report on such countries, although he has the authority under the legislation to waive such sanctions. The Senate bill does not require an action by the president.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is part of a diverse coalition of organizations working for anti-trafficking legislation but with a preference for the House bill.

“We’re excited that it passed the Senate, and we’ll be working to assure the conference results in a bill with a strong enforcement mechanism,” said Shannon Royce, the ERLC’s legislative counsel.

While the legislation covers all forms of slavery, its prime focus is on the burgeoning trade in women and children for sexual uses.

About 50,000 women and children are brought into this country each year in the sex trade, according to experts on the issue. It is estimated there are as many as 2 million sex-trafficking victims a year worldwide, according to the State Department, with at least 1 million of those children. The sex trade has become a profitable enterprise for organized crime, witnesses have testified at congressional hearings.

Victims who have survived sexual slavery have described kidnappings, druggings, beatings, sexual assaults and forced abortions as common parts of their experiences.

The Senate version would provide for prosecution of convicted traffickers in the United States and promote their prosecution in other countries. It also would provide funds for assisting trafficking victims.

Sens. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., and Paul Wellstone, D.-Minn., are the lead sponsors of the version approved in their chamber. Brownback had sponsored a bill with sanctions provisions like the House version. The two senators had agreed, however, to support either version voted on in the Senate.

The bill will establish a “bright line between the victim and perpetrator,” Brownback said in a written release. “Presently, most existing laws internationally fail to distinguish between victims of sexual trafficking and their perpetrators. Sadly and ironically, victims are punished more harshly than the traffickers, because of their illegal immigration status and lack of documents, which the traffickers have confiscated to control the victim.”

The White House has expressed opposition to the legislation, especially the House’s version advocating sanctions on noncompliant countries.