There are arguably more slaves in the world today than at any time in the past 300 years — and most of them are being trafficked for sexual purposes.
The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 passed both chambers of Congress with no debate right before Christmas. The bill that will crack down on sex traffickers in the United States and abroad and also provide more help to victims was signed into law by President George W. Bush.
About 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year, according to the State Department Trafficking in Persons office. Worldwide, it is nearly 1 million who are trafficked across international borders, half of whom are minors and 80 percent of whom are women. The Department of Justice says it prosecuted 156 trafficking cases, secured 342 convictions and rescued more than 1,400 victims from 2001 to 2007.
The legislation brought together a collection of evangelical Christians, social conservatives, feminist groups and human rights organizations. Conservative women’s groups such as the Concerned Women for America were at the forefront of this proposed legislation for many years.
The new law is named for William Wilberforce, an evangelical Christian who led the effort in Britian’s parliament to end the slave trade in Britain in the 19th century. The bill reauthorizes funds from the initial 2000 act but also beefs up enforcement and penalties and gives federal law enforcement broader authority to prosecute crimes.
Wilberforce law will alleviate a great deal of human suffering and will have a tremendous impact in terms of providing very effective tools for government prosecutors to prosecute those who traffic in human flesh. This is bad news for a lot of really bad people.
The law expands the purview of the Department of Justice into sex crimes that had previously been prosecuted at the state or local level. It also sets new policies for how the state department addresses the matter. It also puts in guidelines for state and local law enforcement to prosecute trafficking cases.
“This has been a priority issue for the Bush Administration in preventing the trafficking of persons around the world,” said White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto. “So this is a piece of legislation we’re very proud to sign and to see that it’s authorizing funding for fiscal years 2008 through 2011. And this program has been very effective around the world in trying to stop trafficking in persons in Africa and Asia.”
The bill includes provisions to impose 10- to 20-year sentences on “brothel landlords” who use minors as victims of human trafficking, and harsher sentences for those convicted of “alien harboring” for the purpose of prostitution. It also limits U.S. funding to countries that use “child soldiers.” Further, it affirms that nothing in the existing trafficking law should be interpreted to say prostitution is “a valid form of employment.”
The Wilberforce law makes federal crimes out of obstructing the investigation of human trafficking, conspiring to traffic humans and receiving financial benefit from trafficking. Further, funds seized from traffickers will not go to the federal treasury, but to help the victims.
It gives government more authority to go after the pimps and the johns, not just the women. That will have a significant effect. Johns were seldom prosecuted at all.
The bill passed in the House overwhelmingly Dec. 12 and by unanimous consent in the Senate on the same day.
President George Bush, the House and Senate have shown a commitment to ending this form of modern-day slavery by passing this important legislation. Give them a call and thank them for their vote. Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito’s office may be reached at 304-926-8912.