Equality Now & partners call on U.S. government to implement zero tolerance policy on sex trafficking & purchase of sex for all U.S. government employees, including Secret Service

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April 25, 2012
Contact: NEW YORK: Equality Now - Tzili Mor, (01) 212-586-0906, tmor@equalitynow.org
BOGOTA: Women’s Link Worldwide, Monica Roa, (57) 1346 4179, (57) 310 850 8752 ,  m.roa@womenslinkworldwide.org; Center for Human Trafficking, Angela Ospina (57) 1287 8611, (57) 1 310 249 5386

U.S. and Colombian NGOs bring attention to the imminent increase in sex tourism and sex trafficking in Cartagena and pattern of commercial sexual exploitation by security sector personnel

New York, NY - Today, women’s rights groups Equality Now and Women’s Link Worldwide, as well as the Center for Human Trafficking, wrote  to President Barack Obama, President Juan Manuel Santos of Columbia and Secretary General José Miguel Insulza of the Organization of American States (OAS), calling for an investigation into the possible pattern of commercial sexual exploitation, including sex trafficking of women, that has come to light following the recent U.S. Secret Service and military personnel scandal in Cartagena, Colombia. The letters also call for an immediate response to the exacerbation of sex tourism in the region that has been spurred by the scandal and for the strengthening of regional commitments to combat the issue.

As highlighted in the 2011 U.S. government Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, “Colombia is a major source country for women and girls subjected to sex trafficking in Latin America, the Caribbean, Western Europe, Asia and North America.” It further states that many of the women and girls “trafficked within Colombia end up in coastal cities, such as Cartagena and Barranquilla, which have become popular destinations for foreign sex tourists from the United States and Europe.” To date, 12 U.S. Secret Service agents and 12 U.S. military service members have been implicated in the possible commercial sexual exploitation of more than 20 women in Cartagena ahead of President Obama’s visit to the Summit of the Americas on April 14-15.

Despite strides taken by the U.S. government to address sex trafficking – including the passage of 2000 Trafficking in Victims Act and the Department of Defense’s zero-tolerance policy - the actions of the Secret Service and military personnel reveal the persistence of a culture within the security and military sectors that allows for the commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and girls. Colombia’s Caracol Radio station broadcasted a report on April 17 about a travel agency in the United States that claims that U.S. Secret Service agents and military personnel had contacted them to explore the availability of sex tours to Cartagena.1 It therefore appears that Secret Service agents and military personnel were allegedly aware of and may have partaken in sex tourism and sex trafficking, which is prohibited under U.S. federal law.

“The U.S. government investigation must go beyond symbolic demotions or dismissals of the men involved and address the possible broader sex tourism and sex trafficking crimes. It must dismantle and prevent networks that profit from the abuse of women and girls. And, it must allocate sufficient resources to make real its commitment to end human trafficking and uphold gender equality in Colombia, around the world and at home,” stated Tzili Mor, New York Office Director of Equality Now."

The current focus on the personal misconduct of a few during the Summit ignores the broader issue of an alleged pattern of involvement in sex tourism, sex trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation by U.S. security personnel and U.S. nationals. Monica Roa, Program Director at Women's Link in Colombia, laments, "It is regrettable that neither the authorities nor the media of both countries have asked questions like ‘does the secret service know the possible existence of international networks that profit from sexual exploitation of women in Cartagena?’ or ‘are these women victims of internal trafficking or some type of sexual exploitation?”

The Secret Service, which operates under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is not governed by an explicit policy prohibiting commercial sexual exploitation. This scandal clearly demonstrates the need for a consistent, uniform, and enforceable legal standard around commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking that covers the conduct of all government employees and contractors, military and civilian. The current patchwork of policy and laws that governs some, but not all, government agencies and defense contractors sends a mixed signal about U.S. commitment to ending the scourge of sex trafficking and its violations of women’s and girls’ rights to non-discrimination, health, dignity,  and freedom from violence and degrading treatment.

The full text of the letters can be viewed here:
Letter to President Barack Obama (English)
Letter to President Juan Manuel Santos (Spanish)
Letter to Secretary General José Miguel Insulza (English)
Letter to Secretary General José Miguel Insulza (Spanish)
Equality Now, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2012, is an international human rights organization that works to protect and promote the rights of women and girls around the world. With offices in New York, Nairobi and London, a presence in Amman, Jordan and Washington, DC, and a special initiative in Lusaka, Zambia, areas of focus include: Discrimination in Law, Sexual Violence, Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Trafficking. By combining grassroots activism with international, regional and national legal advocacy, the organization works to ensure that governments enact and enforce laws and policies that uphold the rights of women and girls around the world. Equality Now’s Women’s Action Network is comprised of 35,000 groups of individual members in more than 160 countries. For more information please visit www.equalitynow.org.
Founded in 2001, Women's Link Worldwide is an international human rights non-profit organization working to ensure that gender equality is a reality around the world. With regional offices in Europe (Madrid, Spain) and Latin America (Bogotá, Colombia), they are an international bilingual organization.  For more information visit www.womenslinkworldwide.org

1Caracol Radio, Proxeneta en EEUU dice que agentes del Servicio Secreto le solicitaron servicios de prostitución en Cartagena, April 17, 2012, at http://www.caracol.com.co/noticias/internacional/proxeneta-en-eeuu-dice-que-agentes-del-servicio-secreto-le-solicitaron-servicios-de-prostitucion-en-cartagena/20120417/nota/1671153.aspx.

April 25, 2012 - 18:00