WASHINGTON A diverse coalition of 150 peoplefrom conservative Christians to liberal feministsare calling on United States senators to pass improved legislation to combat human trafficking.
Supporters of the initiative have signed on to a letter by the National Black Leadership Roundtable urging senators to support legislation already passed by the House of Representatives. The House approved the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act, H.R. 3887, in December with a 405-2 vote.
The legislation "will rescue millions of enslaved girls, women and children within our borders and throughout the world," according to the letter.
The bill's adoption "will allow the United States to combat modern-day slavery with an effectiveness comparable to 19th century efforts to end the chattel enslavement of Africans," the letter to members of the Senate Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees said. "The parallels between both efforts are made clear by the fact that African Americans and Latinos are those most victimized by domestic traffickers, and by the fact that today's traffickers inflict their harm on those who are most vulnerable: young people of color, often immigrants, often children, almost always women, almost always poor."
About 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year, according to the State Department's Trafficking in Persons Office. This does not include millions of victims who are trafficked within their own national borders, the office said. About 80 percent of the transnational victims are females, and as much as 50 percent are minors. The data show the majority of those trafficked across international borders are victims of sexual exploitation.
The TIP Office has estimated as many as 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States annually.
Among the signers is Gary Bauer, president of American Values, Janice Shaw Crouse of Concerned Women for America and Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Other signers include feminist leader Gloria Steinem; Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women; Walter Fauntroy, president of the National Black Leadership Roundtable; Tony Campolo, professor emeritus at Eastern University; Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners; Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action; Rich Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals; Sammy Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; John Miller, former director of the TIP Office; Patrick Trueman, former chief of the Department of Justice's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section; David Gushee, ethics professor at Mercer University; and actresses Anne Archer and Alyssa Milano.
The letter acknowledges that the signers "differ on many issues, often sharply," but are "implacably united by a resolve to end the abuses" of trafficking.
The House-approved bill, which reauthorizes and amends the Trafficking Victims Protection Act passed in 2000, would make the following improvements, according to the March 20 letter:
• It would make sure the law regards "proof of fraud, force, or coercion, and the use of minors by sex traffickers," as the bases not for conviction but for heightened punishment.
• It would connect domestic with international trafficking in order to combat both more actively.
• It would empower the TIP Office to influence other governments to act more aggressively against trafficking.