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'The Selling of Innocents'

A still "The Selling of Innocents" (1996) Film by Ruchira Gupta

A still "The Selling of Innocents" (1996) Film by Ruchira Gupta

Criminals and criminal groups traffic in human beings because it is a high-profit and low-risk commerce, particularly in countries with little or no industry or trade. Unlike other commodities, people can be sold again and again. Narcotics or illegal weapons may pass through several hands before they find a final consumer. Not the victims of Traffickers. Their bondage never ends unless or until it is brought to official notice.

The United Nations estimates that trafficking in persons generates approximately $7 billion annually. That worldwide commerce is closely intertwined with other related criminal activities, such as extortion, racketeering, money laundering, drug use, gambling, and the bribery of corrupt public officials. The economic crisis in Asia as well as conflicts such as between Indonesia and East Timor have contributed to trafficking from those countries. Anecdotal evidence from areas plagued by civil disorders tell us that trafficking in narcotics and guns - in Afghanistan for example - may now evolve into trafficking in people. Like terrorists, narcotics and gun traffickers, they operate across national borders.

Trafficking in persons often involves other criminal activities, including conspiracy, document forgery, visa, mail and wire fraud. In America, Immigration and Naturalization Service raids on trafficker-controlled brothels have also netted heroin and counterfeit currency. The Wah Ching, an Asian organized crime group engaged in smuggling and trafficking in Asian women, is also involved in murder, robbery, gambling, drug trafficking and loan sharking. The Wah Ching also has connections to Asian organized crime groups in Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, Seattle, Dallas, Vancouver, and Toronto. In the United States, some traffickers have been known to supply their female victims with fraudulent state identification and social security cards. This involvement in a multitude of criminal operations and the ties among various criminal gangs and associations only serves to increase the burden on local, state, and federal law enforcement. So what are we doing about this inhuman commerce? The U.S. government is committed to combating trafficking in persons in the U.S. and around the world. I was appointed Senior Advisor to Secretary of State Colin Powell at the State Department to head the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. This is a completely new office responsible for with ensuring that federal agencies are coordinating their efforts here and abroad to combat trafficking in persons. The agencies we work with include the Departments of Justice, Health and Human Services, and Labor, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Agency for International Development. Every year my office produces a report to Congress examining foreign governments' efforts to combat trafficking in persons.

Our strategy to fight trafficking in persons is a three front strategy, we call it the 3 P's: The Prevention and Protection of victims and the Prosecution of traffickers. Prevention of trafficking in persons includes supporting school and literacy programs, job training, alternative economic development programs, and public awareness campaigns. We now support public awareness campaigns that warn potential victims about trafficking in over 30 countries. Protection of victims includes supporting shelters and halfway houses, providing medical, psychological and counseling services to victims and repatriating them safely to their home countries. Prosecution of cases is key - it is important that these cases result in convictions and appropriate sentences. All three prongs require that we work with other countries to ensure that they have strong legislation criminalizing trafficking and protecting victims. Both domestically and internationally we must train law enforcement, prosecutors and judges in order to ensure that they are aware of these laws and able to conduct effective investigations against traffickers.

The Trafficking Victims and Violence Protection Act passed by Congress that I mentioned earlier became law in October 2000. This law criminalizes trafficking in persons in the United States. Before this, U.S. prosecutors had to use a variety of criminal, labor and immigration statutes to prosecute traffickers - and often the sentences against the traffickers were low and the victims were deported. Traffickers may face up to 20 years in prison, or life imprisonment in some cases, and have the profits they earned from enslaving people confiscated.

Victims of trafficking in persons to the U.S. are now given better protection. Before this law, trafficking victims were often deported as illegal aliens. Now, victims that cooperate with U.S. law enforcement in pursuit of trafficker may be given the right to stay in the U.S. and work - the T-visa.