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House Legislation

Sex Trafficking

April 24, 2002


Thank you Madame Chair for convening this hearing on sex trafficking. Sex trafficking wherever it occurs is abhorrent. Sex trafficking wherever it occurs is a concern of the men and women of this subcommittee, committee, and Congress.

I commend Congressman Smith who has taken a lead on this issue and all other human rights issues, too many of which remain overlooked.

Trafficking, particularly sex trafficking and sexual slavery, has become a global scourge that until recently has received scant or no attention from our policymakers. So it is appropriate that this subcommittee with you and me as its leaders should convene this hearing on this subject.

Who would have thought that in the year 2002, almost 200 years after Denmark became the first of the world's nations to outlaw slavery, we'd still be here fighting the hideous practices of buying, selling, and trafficking other human beings?

Probably no one group in this country understands the horror and cruelty involved in these practices than the grandsons and granddaughter of slaves. Even today, for the inheritors of slavery's legacy, the African-American community, justice has come slowly and the economic, social, and psychological wounds of history still have not healed.

One hundred and 39 years after the formal abolition of the American slave trade, African-Americans are still waiting to collect on that "bad check" Dr. King talked about on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial almost four decades ago. Eight generations of African-Americans are still waiting to achieve their rights - compensation and restitution for the hundreds of years during which they were bought and sold on the market.

Let me add that the fight against sexual exploitation and sex-based tyranny - a fight that is as old as history itself - has particular meaning.

To be denied one's freedom ... To be stripped of one's human value ... and instead assigned a market price ... These are no minor things. They strike at the very heart of what it means to be free and human. International human rights activists have for years been alerting us to the ongoing brutality of human exploitation. Finally, two years ago, we began to listen.

The passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 was a great success for victims of trafficking, exploitation, and slavery everywhere. The State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report, issued last year for the first time, has been a welcome addition to the discourse on the practices of buying and selling human beings.

The report rightly calls these abominable practices "a modern-day form of slavery, which has persisted into the twenty-first century." The State Department's report helps us to understand that while modern-day human trafficking may have taken on more sophisticated and often even subtle forms, the pain, horror, and exploitation can be very much the same as it was in the past.

The State Department report also plays another very key role - it allows for the debate on the practice of buying, selling, trading, and trafficking in human beings to be elevated to a level that goes beyond petty political and ideological concerns. So while it may be popular in certain political and ideological circles to single out certain nations, races, or religions, for selective moral scrutiny, we know now that the realities are far more complex and disquieting.

Because among the "rogue nations" and "dictatorships" of the Tier 3 countries - countries the State Department views as the world's most egregious traffickers in human beings - countries like Burma, Sudan, and Yugoslavia - are those nations that, in addition to being strong U.S. allies, are also considered to be thriving democracies.

Yet there is little or no outrage from the usual circles, either inside or outside the Congress.

The authors of the State Department report ought to be commended, therefore, for providing us with an honest and straightforward assessment of these horrible practices, wherever they occur.

We might have thought - or wished - that such practices had been relegated to the past. It might have been easier to bury our heads in the sand - and for years we did exactly that. But with the lessons of history still fresh on minds, we can no longer afford to look the other way.

Someone once said that the most important thing we learn from history is that we never learn from history. I hope this time, we will prove them wrong.

Thank you all for being with us and I look forward to hearing from you all.


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