Statement of Jessica Neuwirth, President of Equality Now, to the New York City Council 6/11/08
I want to start by thanking the New York City Council for this opportunity to testify on the subject of the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (the TVPRA). My name is Jessica Neuwirth, and I am the President of Equality Now, an international human rights organization working for the protection and promotion of the rights of women and girls worldwide. Equality Now has been deeply involved in the fight against sex trafficking for more than fifteen years, and is a member of the Steering Committee of the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition, which advocated successfully for the passage of a strong state law against human trafficking here in New York. The issue today is whether or not we will see similarly strong legislation at the federal level. We need your help.
In December of 2007, by a vote of 405-2, the House passed a bill that reauthorized the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the TVPA. This bill, HR 3887, creates a coherent and comprehensive legal framework for the criminal prosecution of human trafficking and addresses some of the problems with the TVPA that have greatly limited its effectiveness in the prosecution of sex trafficking. Today I am going to talk about the particular difficulties in prosecuting sex trafficking cases – Equality Now focuses primarily on sex trafficking as most victims of sex trafficking are women and girls.
The TVPA has not been an effective tool for law enforcement in sex trafficking prosecutions over the last seven years since it was passed because the "force, fraud, or coercion" requirement in the law is very difficult to prove, even when the conduct does constitute force, fraud, or coercion. Such prosecutions rely heavily on victim testimony, which puts a huge burden on victims, who are afforded little protection under the law. In addition to being under direct threat themselves, trafficking victims often have family back in their country of origin under threat; these and many other kinds of coercive pressure, which is very real and very frightening, often prevents them from testifying. Brutalized by rape and violence, passed from trafficker to trafficker, and sold again and again in prostitution, these women are often broken by the force that has been used against them – it would be a grave injustice to mistake their submission for consent. It is not consent but it makes force, fraud and coercion very difficult to prove.
In the six years after the TVPA passed, less than 70 cases of sex trafficking were successfully prosecuted – 70 cases over six years. The Justice Department has reported more than 70 cases of sex trafficking – it has reported thousands of cases. Most of these cases are cases they have brought under the Mann Act because the Mann Act does not require proof of “force, fraud or coercion.” It merely requires proof that the trafficker moved a person across state lines for the purpose of prostitution. These are cases that the Justice Department has itself identified as trafficking cases, and what the House bill does is to integrate the Mann Act into the TVPA to give us a consolidated and comprehensive legal framework. It also removes the interstate transport requirement – this requirement is not in the TVPA, which defines “sex trafficking” as “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining a person for the purpose of a commercial sexual act.” This is the definition in Section 103(9) of the TVPA passed in 2000. In 2000, however, the Congress limited the criminal prosecution of trafficking to what is called “severe forms of trafficking” and that is where the force, fraud and coercion requirement came in. We believe the federal government should be prosecuting all sex trafficking, not just severe forms of sex trafficking, and in doing so it will be much easier to prosecute severe forms of sex trafficking as well for the reasons I have mentioned. The House bill retains force, fraud and coercion as an aggravated sex trafficking offence.
The Department of Justice has expressed concern that there are inadequate resources to address anything but the most severe forms of sex trafficking and consider anything else to be “unnecessary and a diversion from Federal law enforcement’s core anti-trafficking mission.”1 The Department of Justice further claims that its “record during the last six years demonstrates its success in investigating and prosecuting trafficking and related crimes and in convicting and securing appropriate sentences for traffickers.”2 These statements, and the views of the Department of Justice as expressed regarding H.R. 3887, indicate that the Department of Justice believes it is doing an effective job in combating human trafficking. We strongly disagree.
The Justice Department and no doubt even some of the advocacy groups you will hear from today want us to keep sex trafficking and prostitution separate. They do not want to recognize the overlap between sex trafficking and prostitution. While it is true that not all women in prostitution have been trafficked, it is also true that all sex trafficking victims are trafficked into prostitution. The pimps who buy and sell these trafficking victims are part of the global sex trafficking distribution network. Yet there seems to be a reluctance to identify these pimps as sex traffickers – the question is why? Critics of the House bill claim that the bill “federalizes prostitution”. It does no such thing. The crime of prostitution is nowhere in the bill. The House bill recognizes that many pimps are sex traffickers and integrates the crime of pimping into the sex trafficking legislative framework, that is a reflection of reality – not only the reality of sex trafficking but even the reality of the Justice Department’s sex trafficking cases to date. It is not the enormous expansion of the TVPA that the Justice Department claims. As I quoted earlier, the TVPA definition of sex trafficking is not limited to cases of force, fraud or coercion.
There is no reason in public policy or otherwise to protect pimps who are buying and selling women from the scope of federal jurisdiction, especially as it is the current federal pimping law that is currently being used in most sex trafficking cases. The House held hearings and understood this. The bill it passed, championed by Representative Carolyn Maloney, is strong and will really aid us in the struggle to end sex trafficking. We would like to see the Senate bill reflect the same strength and it is our great hope that New York’s senators, particularly Senator Schumer who serves on the Judiciary Committee, will help us. The Steering Committee of the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition has asked him to sponsor amendments to the Senate bill, which does not include the criminal justice provisions I have described. We hope you will join us in urging our Senators to bring the progressive thinking of our New York anti-trafficking law, the strongest in the country, into the federal system. Thank you.
1 Department of Justice letter to The Hon. John Conyers, dated November 9, 2007, p. 9.
2 Ibid. p.8