Cover Story

Trafficking Cops

"Trafficking Cops" Continued...

Issue: "Global shame," June 15, 2002

Thanks to the slow confirmation process for new Bush appointees, the first so-called TIP (Trafficking in Persons) Report, issued in July 2001, was written largely by Clinton holdovers. It consigned 23 countries to Tier 3 status, but some of the most notorious trafficking nations, including Cambodia, India, and Thailand, managed to land in Tier 2, thus escaping economic sanctions. Conservatives hoped that the 2002 report, fully compiled in the Bush administration, would put those countries in Tier 3 where they belonged-and start the process of freeing hundreds of thousands of women and girls from sexual slavery.

Instead, the new TIP report, issued June 15, has many conservatives-and their feminist allies-up in arms. "A year and a half into the Bush administration, matters are at least as bad as they were in the Clinton administration, and in some ways worse," says Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute, one of the leading voices in the campaign against trafficking. "In all my years in Washington, I have seldom seen as savage a battle going on beneath the radar screen."

Round 1 of that battle between Bush appointees and entrenched State Department bureaucrats seems to have gone to the bureaucrats. Not only were India and Thailand not banished to Tier 3, but other serious offenders, including Albania, Malaysia, and Pakistan, were actually bumped up to Tier 2. In fact, the first Bush administration TIP Report lists only 19 countries in the lowest category, compared to 23 the year before.

No one believes that the laws of a single nation can fully halt the huge and lucrative trade in women and children, which ranks, in dollar terms, just behind drug smuggling and arms trading on the list of international crimes. But a law with stiff financial penalties could go a long way toward sparing girls from a life of sexual slavery-if only it were properly enforced.

On paper, the issue looks like a no-brainer for the Bush administration. Sexual trafficking is one of those rare causes that brings together right and left, evangelical Christian and secular humanist.

"You've got soccer moms and Southern Baptists, the National Organization for Women and and the National Association of Evangelicals on the same side of the issue," Mr. Horowitz says. "Pro-family issues are usually controversial, but on this one, you've got everyone in agreement. Gloria Steinem and Chuck Colson together. Doesn't the White House get it?"

Bush administration officials insist they do get it, but that the go-along, get-along culture of the State Department makes it difficult to achieve any sort of consensus on which countries should be sanctioned.

"It's been a difficult process," admits one official who asked not to be identified, per administration rules on speaking to the press. "We believe the intent of the law is to galvanize countries into action, and only when you place a country in Tier 3 will that happen. But some within the State Department believe that just being on the list is enough. They're more cautious, basically, more aware of the diplomatic issues involved."

In the wake of Sept. 11, even critics admit that the diplomatic issues are more delicate than ever. Did the United States really want to publicly embarrass Israel while that key ally was fighting for its very existence? What about Pakistan and Kazakhstan, two countries the United States needs desperately in its war against the Taliban? Likewise, could we afford to humiliate moderate Muslim nations like Malaysia, a bastion of stability in shaky Southeast Asia?

But anti-trafficking activists insist that by considering all those extraneous factors, the State Department is subverting the very intent of the law. "If you have to consider all these other political factors, then the process is critically flawed," argues Lisa Thompson of the Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking, a broad-based coalition headed by the Salvation Army. "It's not about the situation in Kashmir or the tension between Palestine and Israel or all these myriad other important issues. [The TIP Report] shouldn't be used to manipulate other political debates or international relationships. Otherwise it's a corrupt process and you might as well not bother."

Beyond the normal "walk softly" attitude at the State Department, critics say the trafficking law is being hijacked by a committed band of ideologues intent on advancing an agenda too radical even for mainstream feminists like Ms. Steinem. They want to legalize prostitution, viewing it as a potentially empowering career option for poor women who voluntarily choose to sell their bodies. The legalization movement has already won in Germany, the Netherlands, and Australia, and similar legislation appears headed for victory elsewhere, including New Zealand and South Africa.

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