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Fighting Demand for Sex Trafficking

Mark P. Lagon, Director, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Remarks at the Hudson Institute
Washington, DC
February 5, 2008

As prepared for delivery

Good Morning. I am delighted to be joined by Dr. Michael Shivley and Norma Hotaling—both of whom, I am confident, will richly inform our discussion today which will center around successfully combating human trafficking by confronting the demand which perpetuates this evil.

Dr. Shively recently completed ground-breaking significant research for the National Institute for Justice to assess the effectiveness of a San Francisco program—the First Offenders Prostitution Program (FOPP)—that sensitizes first-offender johns in an effort to decrease the demand for prostitution and support long-term change. He will share their findings and how they can inform future demand-reduction efforts.

Norma Hotaling is the founder of SAGE (Stand Against Global Exploitation) in San Francisco—and is a national leader in redefining prostitution. Her organization collaborates with the local district attorney's office and police department in running the First Offenders Prostitution Program (FOPP). Since co-founding the FOPP and founding SAGE, Ms. Hotaling has developed expertise in criminal justice treatment programs, restorative justice programs, and accomplishing these through collaborative relationships between governmental and nonprofit agencies.

And of course, I’d like to thank the Hudson Institute for hosting this critical discussion. It is good to be among friends, including Hudson’s own Michael Horowitz, a dogged defender of the exploited and abused around the world. He is central to the left/right coalition which had rallied to this cause—possessing a unique ability to bring together people from across the political spectrum in pursuit of justice and basic human dignity. He is a valued partner in this fight.

Human trafficking is a dehumanizing crime which turns people into mere commodities. According to the U.S. intelligence community, of the estimated 800,000 people trafficked across international borders annually, 80 percent of victims are female, and up to 50 percent are minors. Hundreds of thousands of these women and children are used in prostitution each year. U.S policy draws a direct connection between prostitution and human trafficking.

Any effort to successfully combat human trafficking, specifically sex trafficking, must confront not only the supply of vulnerable women and children, but the demand which perpetuates this evil.

On the supply side, criminal networks, corruption, lack of education and misinformation about employment opportunities and the degrading nature of work promised, and poverty make people vulnerable to the lures of trafficking. Significant efforts are being made to address these "push" factors, but they alone are not the cause. Importantly, today’s panel discussion will focus on the voracious demand which fuels this dark trade in human beings.

In December 2002, President Bush signed the National Security Policy Directive 22 (NSPD-22) which says that prostitution is inherently harmful and dehumanizing and serves as a magnet for human trafficking. Normalized, tolerated, or regulated prostitution is a clear driver for sex trafficking. And as this market flourishes, the most hideous acts of brutality are occurring.

Professor Donna Hughes, a pioneer in the abolitionist movement, reports having interviewed pimps and police from organized crime units and finding that when the pimps need new women and girls, they simply contact someone who can deliver them—thereby setting in motion the chain of events that perpetuates sex trafficking. Hughes writes, “Where prostitution is flourishing, pimps can not recruit enough local women to fill up the brothels, so they have to bring in victims from other places.” It is telling that the vast majority of prostituted people in the Netherlands are foreign born.

Let me mention just one true story, that typifies the horror we find in case after case after case sex trafficking.

A girl like a 15-year-old Lithuanian I'll call Ilka. Ilka was promised a holiday job in England, and she was flown from Vilnius to London, accompanied by a Kosovar who had befriended her. As soon as she arrived, the Kosovar turned her over to a Macedonian living in England who raped and then sold her to an Albanian for 4,000 pounds. Ilka was enslaved in a series of brothels and re-sold seven times. Thankfully, she escaped and ran, half-dressed, to a police station in Sheffield. The first three traffickers were found guilty of trafficking for sexual exploitation, and sentenced to 18, 15, and 7 years. It was the first case to be tried under an anti-trafficking law in England passed just two years ago.

It's a sign of progress that the criminals got so much jail time. But it is repulsive that hundreds of johns—the sex buyers who constitute demand--who raped this poor girl walk away.

Our bi-partisan anti-trafficking coalition has made great strides toward having a victim-centered approach. Where once victims discovered by police were jailed and forcibly deported, today, far more victims are treated with care, allowing them to become survivors of this traumatic crime. New York Times columnist Bob Herbert describes victims and importantly those who victimize them in stark terms, when he writes, “They are the prey in the predatory world of pimps, johns and perverts that goes by the euphemism: adult entertainment.” As we rightly focus on victims, we must also confront the demand and those causal actors who perpetuate the exploitation.

To emancipate those enslaved in prostitution, rented over and over to johns and pedophiles, as a nation, we must decide that it is not ok to buy a body—buy a fellow human being-- for 30 minutes. Sadly our pop culture, which is exported around the world, glamorizes the role of the pimp. We need only turn on the television, or the radio and we will doubtless face an onslaught, both in subtle messaging and explicit language, which elevates the culture of pimps. Take for example MTV’s Pimp My Ride or the rapper Nelly’s Pimp Juice, an energy drink which is advertised as being for all those who know "pimp'n ain't easy."

The result of this messaging is insidious and devastating—to put it bluntly, most pimps are in fact sex traffickers under federal law, using force, fraud, and coercion to profit from commercial sexual exploitation. The normalization of this criminal behavior carries with it larger implications for how society views women, their worth, and what it teaches today’s boys and tomorrow’s men about what is acceptable behavior. While these larger cultural issues can not be adequately tackled from within government they must be part of this discourse.

There are however things that government can and should do to counter demand. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently created Regional Programs that will raise public awareness about reducing the demand that contributes to trafficking exploitation. HHS is galvanizing local communities and providing victim services, while focusing on consumer demand reduction. HHS operates a public awareness campaign, which I’ve taken part in, for instance, in Nashville, which distributes a wide-range of educational Rescue & Restore materials, and provides training and technical assistance through its National Human Trafficking Resource Center.

State and local authorities have implemented a variety of measures to deter prospective ‘johns.’ In November 2006, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin launched, a “Dear John” public education campaign aimed eliminating commercial sexual exploitation of children and putting “Johns” on notice that there are strict penalties associated with this crime. We will hear today from Norma, who from within her own community is taking tangible steps to tackle demand and shifting the paradigm away from seeing prostituted peoples as criminals.

We have also taken steps abroad. In 2003, the United States strengthened its ability to fight child sex tourism (CST) by passing the Prosecutorial Remedies and other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act which increased penalties to a maximum of 30 years in prison for engaging in CST. Since the passage of the PROTECT Act, there have been approximately 62 indictments and some 64 convictions of child sex tourists.

I recently returned from a two week trip to three regions of Africa. In coastal Kenya, a buzzing hive of customers for child prostitution, I spoke for one hour with a girl, a minor, who claimed she was 17, but looked no more than 15. She told me how she was moved from 90 miles away to make money in the burgeoning sex industry, taking customers to the basement of a club. We gave her contact information for a shelter which the U.S. helps underwrite.

In Mombasa, Kenya and Cape Town, South Africa I met with the hotel and tourism industry leaders about expanding efforts to reduce the presence of sex tourists. In that particular part of the world, I witnessed high numbers of non-U.S. offenders, but I made it clear to the officials and industry leaders I met that the U.S. will throw the book at American citizens for crimes committed as predators while abroad.

In closing, it is important to note that our international programming too reflects demand as a priority. With G/TIP funding, World Vision completed a remarkable public awareness campaign which addressed the demand for child sex tourism. Deterrence messages were placed at every step along the way for prospective child sex tourists including in U.S. airports, on television, in magazines, on the Internet and in airline in-flight videos. The campaign culminated in the destination countries. For example, when tourists left the airport in Phnom Pehn, they were confronted with a billboard message in English: “Abuse a child in this country, go to jail in yours.”

See also:  Fact Sheet: U.S. Government Efforts to Fight Demand Fueling Human Trafficking

Released on February 8, 2008

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