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Remembering the Human in Human (Sex) Trafficking

By       Message Elayne Clift     Permalink
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She was a 14-year old girl in foster care when she was kidnapped and held hostage for nearly a year. Sold to at least ten men a night after being "broken in," she says she forgot what it felt like to be human. At age 15 she was arrested for prostitution. This is a true story, and every year the same thing happens to approximately a thousand girls just like her in the U.S.

That's why Republicans who tried to sneak anti-abortion language into the proposed Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 are despicable. Originally the bill had received bipartisan support because it was aimed at strengthening law enforcement's ability to pursue anyone who bought sex from trafficked women and girls with criminal fines used to establish a fund to help victims.

But then the usual cast of characters on the right snuck in anti-abortion language that essentially reprised Hyde Act restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortions to the victim restitution fund. Think about that: Were these powerbrokers so heartless that they were actually going to make sex-trafficked victims, some still children themselves, bear babies conceived in rape and violence as if they had not already endured enough punishment for one lifetime? The very idea boggles the mind.

At the eleventh hour, the bill was stalled by Senate Democrats upset by the stealth language inserted into the bill at the last minute. It remains to be seen whether lawmakers from both sides of the aisle will join forces to reach a compromise on the abortion language before the bill dies altogether. Meanwhile, the confirmation of Loretta Lynch for Attorney General is being held hostage by the Senate Majority Leader, who claims the Senate can't proceed with that nomination until this bill is resolved.

Here are just some of the gruesome facts about human trafficking, which the United Nations defines as the "recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or a position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation:"

Human trafficking exists all over the U.S. (and the world) with California being a hot spot for domestic and international trafficking. The average entry age of American minors into the sex trade is 12 -- 14 years old. Approximately 300,000 American children are at risk for commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking annually, according to the FBI.

There are more human slaves in the world today than ever before in history. An estimated 27 million adults and 13 million children are victims of human trafficking, which involves not only sex and labor but organ harvesting. Each year about 30,000 sex trafficking victims die from abuse, disease, torture and neglect. Eighty percent of those sold into sexual slavery are under 24 and some are as young as six years old.

Sex traffickers use many ways to "condition" victims including starvation, rape, torture, isolated confinement, threats of violence to family members, forced drug use and shame. Traffickers are part of a global market estimated to generate profits of up to $31 billion a year.

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International and federal law requires that children in the commercial sex trade be treated as victims of trafficking and not prostitutes. However, most U.S. states and localities fail to apply the law and every year more than 1,000 children are arrested here for prostitution, most of them not even of legal age to consent to sex.

It is significant to note that it was both Democratic and Republican women in the Senate who led the move to take on what Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) called "the despicable, vile issue of human trafficking." All twenty women in the Senate signed a letter to the Republican chairman and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee urging a hearing on sex trafficking in the U.S. After a hearing was held the Senate committee unanimously passed several bills related to sex trafficking that had already passed in the House.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, human trafficking is the fastest growing and second largest criminal industry in the world (after drug trafficking and illegal arms). A 2009 report issues by Shared Hope International revealed that using conservative estimates, a sex trafficking victim is likely to be raped by 6,000 buyers during the course of her victimization.

"The fact is human trafficking is happening right here, right now, in the U.S., probably in any city where anybody lives," says the mother of one survivor. "Just because you don't know anything about it doesn't mean it's not happening."

The truth about human trafficking for sex is enough to make anyone sick -- except, it seems, a few insensitive, self-righteous folks on Capital Hill.

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Shame on them.


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Elayne Clift is a writer,lecturer, workshop leader and activist. She is senior correspondent for Women's Feature Service, columnist for the Keene (NH) Sentinel and Brattleboro (VT) Commons and a contributor to various publications internationally. (more...)

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