For almost a decade, the Helsinki Commission has pressed countries that participate in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to take decisive action to address the trafficking of human beings for labor and sexual exploitation. As a result of strong leadership from the U.S. Government at the Istanbul Summit in 1999, the OSCE participating States committed “to end violence against women and children as well as sexual exploitation and all forms of trafficking in human beings.” All OSCE participating States, including the United States, are bound to implement this commitment.
In the last six years, governments around the world have awakened to this thriving international trade based on the exploitation of human beings, the denial of human liberty, and the destruction of human dignity. Much of this progress has been spurred by legislation which I authored, by the intense diplomatic efforts made by the State Department, and by political commitment at the highest levels including President Bush. Last Friday, the State Department issued the fifth annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, which was mandated by Congress in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), Public Law 106-386.
The U.S. Government estimates that in addition to the 600,000 to 800,000 women, children and men bought and sold across international borders each year and exploited for forced labor or commercial sex, many more are trafficked internally within the borders of individual countries. When internal trafficking victims are added to the estimates, the number of victims annually is in the range of 2 to 4 million. Today the Commission continues it commitment to eradicating this human rights abomination by turning the spotlight on the problem of domestic trafficking — the trafficking of American citizens and nationals, right here in the United States.
As a result of the TVPA, foreign trafficking victims in the United States are by law required to be treated as victims, rather than as criminals. The question before the Commission today is whether the same holds true, in law or in fact, for American citizen victims of trafficking.
The TVPA, and its reauthorization enacted in 2003, created a comprehensive framework for combating trafficking in persons abroad, as well as the trafficking of foreign nationals into the United States. In February, I introduced the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005, H.R. 972. In addition to reauthorizing anti-trafficking programs here and abroad, the bill explicitly recognizes that trafficking in persons also occurs wholly within the borders of the United States.
H.R. 972 uses the definition of trafficking created by the TVPA to define the trafficking of American citizens and nationals within the United States as “domestic trafficking.”
To address domestic trafficking, the bill would authorize new funds to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, authorize grants to state and local law enforcement for investigation and prosecutions, authorize grants for NGO victim service providers, establish a pilot program for residential rehabilitation facilities for domestic trafficking victims, and authorize a study of best practices and a pilot program for demand reduction measures. Similar to what has been accomplished in the international arena, these measures would begin to shift the paradigm so that our own citizens who are exploited are seen and treated as victims of crime.
Although anecdotal evidence is abundant, there are few statistics on the extent of the United States’ domestic trafficking problem. The little research that does exist focuses on child victims. The most authoritative research, done by Richard Estes and Neil Weiner at the University of Pennsylvania, estimated that 300,000 children in the United States are at risk for commercial sexual exploitation, including trafficking, at any given time.
The largest group of substantially at risk children are runaway, thrownaway and other homeless American children who use “survival sex” to acquire food, shelter, clothing and other things needed to survive on America’s streets. When we consider that, according to the National Runaway Switchboard, between 1.3 and 2.8 million runaway and homeless youth live on America’s streets everyday, it would not be surprising to learn that the number of children trafficked in the United States is actually much higher than 300,000.
The findings from the University of Pennsylvania report are chilling and have been, in part, the impetus for today’s hearing. This research found, for example, that:
· Like other groups of sexually exploited persons, street children are exposed to violence, drug abuse, rape and, sometimes, even murder at the hands of the pimps, the “customers” and traffickers that make up their world.
· The sexual exploitation of children is not limited to particular racial, ethnic or socioeconomic groups, although children from poorer families appear to be at a somewhat higher risk of commercial sexual exploitation. In fact, most of the street children encountered in the study were Caucasian youths who had run away from middle-class homes. One clear theme is the a disproportionate number of street youth who have histories of recurrent physical or sexual abuse at home and took to the streets in a desperate effort to bring their abuse to an end.
· Many street youths use drugs to deal with the emotional pain of being sexually victimized at home and, once on the streets, by four to 10 “customers” a day.
· Lastly, according to these researchers, child sexual exploitation in the United States affects as many boys as girls, but boys are less well served by social-service and law-enforcement systems because of the widespread belief that boys are better able than are girls to fend for themselves. In time, research has shown, many boys shift from being victims of sexual abuse to victimizing other boys and girls as pimps and traffickers.
The trafficking of Americans, particularly children, is largely a problem hidden from the view of most Americans. I look forward to hearing the testimony of our distinguished witnesses who are providing a service to the Commission and the public by shining a light on this horrific abuse of our own citizens and nationals.