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Posted in: Feminism

Published on Dec 18, 2008 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Pajamas Media

American Heroes Today

The Battle to Pass the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act


Please don't call me an optimist–my view of humanity and of human events has become far too sober–but, it is plain to see: Although the forces of evil may triumph, the battle is at least joined. Good men and women are "doing something." They are fighting. Sometimes, they are even winning.

For example: In addition to the widespread and increasing use of rape as a systematic weapon of war, even of genocide, the international trafficking in persons, mainly women and children, has also risen alarmingly. Children are sold and women are lured or kidnapped and then sold into sexual slavery. All this is true and seems to be getting worse.

And yet, on the evening of December 10, 2008, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Act was passed by both houses of Congress. According to Michael Horowitz, a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, who has led a left-right coalition on this subject for a decade, the bill passed by "unanimous consent"–but only after the "intense federal lobbying against it" had failed.

You would not believe which senior Senators fiercely opposed it; I've been asked not to say. Now that the bill has passed, these very people are busily taking credit for it. But they are politicians and this is precisely what politicians do.

According to Horowitz, "senior officials of the State Department and other federal agencies, joined sub rosa by Department of Justice officials, were hard at work expressing their opposition to the bill and seeking to line up sufficient opposition to block its passage." The opposition believed the bill would never pass and went home early.

Such hard-hearted arrogance also accounts for America's major financial melt-downs (Enron, Fannie Mae, Madoff's ponzi scheme). But I can only imagine the high drama–in fact, it reminded me very much of what happened in the film "Amazing Grace," in which parliamentarian, abolitionist, and evangelical Christian, William Wilberforce (1759-1833), is shown fighting to abolish the slave trade in Great Britain and on British ships, which dominated the slave trade. Wilberforce and his allies fought for eighteen years and then he prevailed. To win, (at least in the film), Wilberforce gives away free tickets to the horse races and, when the vote comes up, the opposition is out to sport. According to Michael Horowitz:

"While the bill does not provide us with all the tools we need to take on the slavery issue of our time, I regard it — and believe that future scholars will regard it — as a spectacular if not historic achievement. Of course, giving full life to the bill will depend on such factors as the appointment by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton of a first rate head of the TIP (Trafficking In Persons) Office — a matter about which the coalition should not be passive — and by our continued efforts to ensure that the anti-trafficking battle remains a priority concern for each of us and for the organizations with which we are associated."

According to Professor Donna Hughes, (who runs the premiere listserv group about prostitution and trafficking):

"The Wilberforce Act gives us new tools to combat the sex trafficking and pimping of women and children throughout the world. The new standard is discussion of 'commercial sex acts.' We are no longer limited to narrow definitions of sex trafficking."

According to Tom Strode, in Baptist Press,

"The legislation, supporters say, will:

– Significantly increase the ability of the State Department's Trafficking in Persons Office to thwart sexual and other forms of trafficking overseas.

– Strengthen prosecution efforts against trafficking in the United States.

– Increase punishment for traffickers.

– Enhance protections for trafficking victims in this country.

– Empower U.S. attempts to halt the use of children as soldiers in other countries.

– Require the Justice Department to produce a model law for states to use in investigating and prosecuting trafficking.

– Clarify that federal law cannot be interpreted to consider prostitution as an acceptable mode of employment.

– Authorize a presidential award for exceptional efforts in the fight against trafficking."

We are living in the best of times, the worst of times. Let us now praise the heroes of this struggle.

They include: Michael Horowitz; President George W. Bush; the Directors of the State Department's Trafficking in Persons office: Ambassador John Miller and Mark Lagon; and a determined and diverse coalition of activists who might not have agreed on other issues but who all agreed that slavery must be abolished. Yes, conservative groups, the Salvation Army, the Concerned Women for America, the Southern Baptist Convention, were very involved in this effort, but so were The National Organization of Women, Equality Now, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women , lawyer Catharine MacKinnon—and Representative Carolyn Maloney, who ought to be appointed New York's next Senator.

Dogged Heroes: Job well done.


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