The abolitionist

National | Activists believe John Miller is the man to make the fighting of forced prostitution a State Department priority

Issue: "Portable Pentagon," March 1, 2003

IN VERA CRUZ, MEXICO, A YOUNG woman named Maria is approached by an acquaintance. There are restaurant jobs in the United States, the woman tells her; Maria can earn money, lots of it, and boost her little girl and her parents out of poverty.

It sounds like the all-American dream to 18-year-old Maria. But once in the United States, the dream becomes a nightmare. "I was transported to Florida, and there one of the bosses told me I would be working at a brothel as a prostitute," she recalls. "I told him he was mistaken, and that I was going to be working at a restaurant, not a brothel. He said I owed him a smuggling debt and the sooner I paid it off, the sooner I could leave."

If Maria or her fellow prostitutes refused to service a customer, "the bosses would show us a lesson by raping us brutally. We worked six days a week, 12 hours a day. If anyone became pregnant, we were forced to have abortions, and the cost of the abortion was added to the smuggling debt," Maria says.

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It was horror stories like Maria's that recently drove John Miller, a former congressman from Washington state, to come back to the other Washington last month to head up the Office of Trafficking in the State Department.

"I realized that slavery was still alive," Mr. Miller, 64, told WORLD. Even as he considered the job, "The U.S. attorney in Seattle arrests these men for running a sex slavery ring. I'm reading about how they lured these girls from Asian nations, promised them restaurant jobs, modeling jobs, got them to Seattle, seized their passports, beat them, raped them, moved them from brothel to brothel. There it was in civil Seattle," Mr. Miller says, shaking his head in disbelief.

Since then, he says, "I've read this story a thousand times" and met with people who rescue women and children from sex slavery around the world, one of whom showed him a videotape of a 6-year-old girl being sold. The more he read and heard, Mr. Miller says, the more he wanted to help President Bush lead a fight against modern-day slavery.

Mr. Miller's fans-including Vice President Dick Cheney and congressmen Tom DeLay, Henry Hyde, Frank Wolf, and Chris Smith-believe he has the guts to take on what Mariam Bell, national director of public policy at the Wilberforce Forum, calls "the pro-prostitution mafia" within the State Department-people who are, anti-slavery activists charge, deliberately subverting the mandate of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

The Act was intended to reduce the number of women and children-at least a million strong-who are forced to travel a global map of misery. Slavers peddle Nigerian women to West European men. Moldovan girls are trafficked to Yugoslavia. Pakistanis purchase young Afghan males while Italians rape females kidnapped from Kosovo refugee camps. In China, the market for North Korean women is strong. Japanese and Australian men buy Thai and Filipino girls, while Mexican girls end up in U.S. brothels. According to the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, in Cambodia, 5-year-olds are forced to perform oral sex on clients; girls as young as 10 are penetrated.

The Act (passed in October, 2000, over the objections of the Clinton Administration, although Mr. Clinton eventually signed it) tells the State Department to identify and expose the world's worst offenders so the United States can hold out the threat of sanctions if conditions don't improve. But when the State Department issued its 2002 sex-trafficking report last June, it was a whitewash: Some of the worst offenders, such as India, Thailand, and Brazil, were left off the "flagrant violations" list, meaning no sanctions would be forthcoming; anti-trafficking activists were outraged.

While no one actually admits to being in favor of sexual slavery, anti-trafficking activists say other State Department officials had other priorities. Those responsible for promoting other U.S. diplomatic or economic interests fear that pressuring countries over their sex-slavery problems might harm other U.S. efforts. (While fighting sex trafficking is his own highest priority, Mr. Miller says, "It is understandable that somebody in a different bureau or an embassy not only sees this law but sees other laws under which they're operating" and has to decide which policy goal has higher priority.)

Also in play was a savage ideological battle over how prostitution should be viewed. Radical feminists in Europe and America-including those in the State Department-have redefined prostitutes as "sex workers" and view selling one's body as an "empowering career option," one that simply needs the proper government regulation. Hudson Institute senior fellow Michael Horowitz castigates this view that "minimum wages and ergonomic mattresses will help women escape poverty and enslavement and ruin."


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