Bills propose that traffickers in women and children face stiff penalties and offer a limited number of visas to those brought to U.S. Legislation, intended to combat the sex trafficking of women and children into the United States, is expected to hit the House floor in late April.
Known as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the bill calls for increased penalties for traffickers, permanent visas for a limited numberof victims and a special task force to further study and address sex trafficking as a human rights crime.
"This critical legislation will modify U.S. law to provide for severe punishment, including prison terms, for those convicted of peddling women and children within the United States," said the House bill’s sponsor, Representative Chris Smith (R-New Jersey).
Similar legislation was introduced in the Senate by Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota) and the Foreign Relations subcommittee heard testimony in early April by several sex-trafficking victims.
If passed, the legislation may help reduce the number of women forced into prostitution or slave-like conditions. An estimated 50,000 women andchildren are trafficked into the United States annually and perhaps as many as two million women are trafficked internationally, according to aNovember, 1999 report by state department analyst Amy O’Neill Richard.
Approximately 30,000 of the victims brought to the U.S. are from Southeast Asia; about 10,000 arrive from Latin American countries and the rest are transported primarily from newly independent states and Eastern Europe. The majority of women brought to the U.S. are from Thailand, Vietnam, China, Mexico, Russian Ukraine and the Czech Republic, according to Richard's report.
Determining the precise scale of the trafficking victims is a difficult task because trafficking and prostitution are underground industries, often with links to organized crime. Moreover, no U.S. or international agency is currently tracking these types of cases.
The victims are also hampered from coming forward by language and cultural barriers, and are often reluctant to do so out of fear of violent reprisals or deportation to their home countries.
Increases in trafficking are predicted because of the low economic status of women and lack of opportunity in home countries, as well as thestaggering potential for profit, measured in the millions.
The proposed legislation calls for the State Department to produce annual reports on sex trafficking, both in the U.S. and abroad, and raises the possibility of the U.S. sanctioning countries that do not appear to be taking steps to combat the trafficking problem.
The State Department has opposed these measures and its position could threaten the bills. Other opposition to the legislation involves the economic sanctions to foreign counties.
Prosecution of this crime has been a problem in the U.S., the Richard's report said. Because the U.S. does not currently have a comprehensivetrafficking law, the cases are prosecuted under various existing criminal, labor and immigration laws.
The maximum prison sentences are usually 10 years, with perpetrators often serving much less time. In the several recent cases cited by Richard, the traffickers often received sentences shorter than those convicted of drug offenses.
"A review of the trafficking cases shows that the penalties appear light, especially when compared to sentences given drug dealers, and do not appear to reflect the multitude of human rights abuses perpetrated against the women," the Richard’s report said.
Both the House and Senate bills would set the maximum sentences to 20 years.
The legislation also provides for up to 5,000 permanent visas or about 10 percent of trafficking victims. Currently the women face both detention and deportation.
International Trafficking in Women to the United States: A Contemporary Manifestation of Slavery and Organized Crime by Amy O’Neill Richard.
The full report can be accessed at the Center for the Study of Intelligence.