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.
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."
This "mend it, don't end it" approach argues for teaching "sex workers"-including, incredibly, "child sex workers"-to say, "Please use a condom." But women and children in bondage are hardly in a position to insist on this-leading to an AIDS infection rate of up to 90 percent among prostitutes in India and Africa. In any case, Mr. Horowitz says, giving condoms to sex slaves is morally equivalent to improving conditions on 19th-century slave ships.
To fight this destructive attitude, anti-trafficking forces asked that the administration appoint someone with a strong "abolitionist" view of prostitution to head the new Trafficking office. Instead, the State Department "appointed a career ambassador [Nancy Ely-Raphael] who quickly became the captive of all the people who had opposed the anti-trafficking legislation," Mr. Horowitz says.
In a memo he called her "an irretrievably disastrous choice" who would not provide leadership and direction to "career personnel in the State Trafficking Office." He told WORLD that Ms. Ely-Raphael's views were "characteristic of the State Department approach to problems, which is to paper over it and declare victory irrespective of the substance." (Ms. Ely-Raphael did not return WORLD's telephone calls.)
Anti-trafficking activists were also angered by attempts by Trafficking Office personnel to "gut" the Trafficking Act by attempting to delegate presidential responsibility for waiving the Act. That, they say, would have eliminated from the statute its most essential component: holding the president personally accountable for progress in the prosecution of traffickers and the protection of victims.
For two years, anti-trafficking groups met with White House staffers and administration officials to hammer out concerns. At the top of their list: more aggressive prosecution of pimps, brothel owners, and corrupt cops who allow them to operate. They also continued to express frustration over the lack of aggressive leadership in the Trafficking office.
Two months ago, the pressure paid off when the administration shifted Ms. Ely-Raphael to another position. Once it became clear that she would be replaced, human-rights activists brought up John Miller's name.
Why? As a congressman, he had fought against giving China Most Favored Nation Status when the biggest employer in his district was Boeing-a company which sells jets to the Chinese. Despite Boeing's political muscle, Mr. Miller had even participated in protest demonstrations at the Chinese Embassy. In Congressman Frank Wolf's words, Mr. Miller is "a good person, always a very strong advocate for human rights. I know he will do an outstanding job."
That passion for human rights arises in part from Mr. Miller's Conservative Jewish roots. "I don't generally go around quoting Scripture," he says, but then points to Exodus 7, where the Lord tells Moses to say to Pharaoh, "Let My people go that they may serve Me." The message, he believes, "is pretty clear: You cannot be a slave to man if you want to develop a full and wholesome relationship with God." As well, he argues, the values of the Judeo-Christian ethical tradition "tell us that God has told us that slavery is wrong and that we have a moral mission" to stop it. Mr. Miller also identifies with the most moving lines of the Declaration of Independence: "All men are created equal" and are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights."
One of the most critical aspects of Mr. Miller's job will be educating the public. Most Americans think slavery was abolished in 1863, Mr. Miller notes. They're gradually becoming aware that the peculiar institution is alive and well, both in America and abroad. "Slavery based on race is still with us. It's just not the most prevalent form of slavery," Mr. Miller explains. "Today, people are enslaved because of their religion, for sexual purposes, or because they've become the spoils of war. And we're not talking thousands, we're talking millions. We're going to look at what's going on around the world and we're going to use our power to try to help these people."
"Our job under the statute is to end trafficking," Mr. Miller says bluntly. If America fails to take the lead in rescuing the victims, he adds, "there's no other nation that will."