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House Committee Holds Hearing on Human Trafficking

On June 19, the House International Relations Committee held a hearing on the State Department’s second annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP report). Committee Chair Henry Hyde (R-IL) opened the hearing by remarking that the report is a “key component… intended to inform the President and the Congress about which foreign governments are making serious efforts to combat the most egregious forms of trafficking in persons—the buying and selling of women and children into the international sex industry, and the trafficking of men, women, and children alike into slavery and involuntary servitude—and which governments are failing to make such efforts.”

Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky described the TIP report as “an essential tool available to the U.S. Government.” She explained that foreign governments are “judged on whether they comply with the minimum standards to eliminate trafficking in persons and are ranked in one of three tiers.”

The first tier is made up of nations that have met the minimum standards and are making efforts to eliminate trafficking, prosecute the perpetrators, protect the victims, and educate the public about this criminal activity. The second tier is comprised of those nations that have not met the minimum standards but are making progress in doing so. The third tier is reserved for those nations that fail to meet the standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.

In addition, Ms. Dobriansky said that the State Department has taken other steps to “reinforce the impact of the report,” including meeting with the President’s Cabinet-level Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and educating the public about the issue.

In her testimony, former Rep. Linda Smith of Shared Hope International, said the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) was “a very important step forward in the fight against human trafficking.” However, she added that in the three countries where Shared Hope is working–India, Nepal, and Jamaica–they have seen “no significant evidence of positive or effective government action to curb the trafficking problem.” She stressed that the TVPA will not be an “effective tool for change unless we tell the truth about what is really going on in countries where we know trafficking and forced prostitution are a problem.” Ms. Smith recommended that the United States rate every country, enhance aid to victims’ services programs in countries where trafficking is a major problem, and continue to keep a “spot light” on Tier 2 countries.

Gary Haugen of International Justice Mission, an international human rights agency, said that the report fails to help those trying to work with governments to end sex trafficking. According to Mr. Haugen, the report “trivializes the importance of actually convicting the perpetrators of those crimes by refusing to provide any objective data for the worst offending countries” and “treats police corruption as an excuse for why governments cannot do better, rather than examining whether these governments…have done anything to simply fire the corrupt police.”

Agreeing with Mr. Haugen, Donna Hughes of the University of Rhode Island also said that trafficking would decrease when there are sufficient arrests and convictions to “deter pimps, traffickers, organized crime groups and corrupt officials from engaging in the buying and selling of victims and there is a reduction in the demand for women and children to be used in prostitution.” She added that because those two factors are missing in the TIP report, the report is a lost opportunity to “render assistance to the millions of victims who have no one to speak on their behalf.”

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