By Peter J. Smith
TRENTON, New Jersey, October 29, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A landmark U.S. law against human trafficking and sexual exploitation marked its tenth anniversary on Thursday, but lawmakers and individuals said that despite progress, more needs to be done to help victims, many of whom are women and girls.
On the steps of New Jersey’s State House, New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, members of the New Jersey Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force, spoke alongside women with their own experience in the modern human slave trade about the gains made since the enactment of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, or Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).
“In the past decade, we have seen progress on a number of anti-trafficking fronts,” said Smith. “With a combination of encouragement, persuasion and sustained pressure via sanctions imposed by the United States, countries around the world have created or amended over 210 laws to combat human trafficking and in the past two years alone an estimated 80,000 victims have been identified and assisted worldwide.”
Only two days before the press conference, police busted three massage parlors in West Windsor that they suspect have ties to human trafficking, reported The Trentonian.
Smith’s latest legislative achievement in the crusade against human trafficking is the International Megan’s Law, passed this year by the House of Representatives. Passage of the bill is still pending in the U.S. Senate.
At the press conference two individuals stepped forward to offer testimony in support of the legislation, based on their own experiences.
Rani Hong, co-founder of the Tronie Foundation, an anti-human trafficking group, spoke about her experience as a child stolen away from her “happy family” in southern India.
“At the age of 7, I was kidnapped from my mother, ripped away from my family and sold into slavery,” Hong said. “I was abused, tortured. You can’t even imagine what us victims go through.”
“The only connection I had was through my master. We are talking about slavery today,” she said, adding that masters sometimes would house enslaved children like her in cages and punish them mercilessly for displeasing them. Hong said that her child’s body had severely deteriorated under these conditions. Her master eventually sold her into adoption, and Hong ended up in the United States. She became reunited with her mother only many years later.
Hong is married to Washington businessman Trong Hong, who also was a victim of child slavery as a child soldier in Vietnam. He escaped in 1978 and together with his wife tells his story to help promote the dignity and rights of children worldwide.
Ingrid Hayward, a professional nurse also spoke at the press conference about how her then-13-year-old daughter had run away from home only to end up kidnapped by sex traffickers and prostituted in several states including New Jersey. Her daughter, now a 20-year-old sophomore, was found after 11 months in New York.
“Upon her return it became very important to me and my family that the world understand that advocacy for these victims is extremely important,” said Hayward.
Hayward said that she has since dedicated herself to the “voiceless victims” of human trafficking and urging people to “support the services for human trafficking victims.”
“Don’t mark success by the high numbers or volume of cases,” Hayward said, while expressing her praise of TVPA. “Mark success by my daughter now being a college student. We’ve come from behind the veil of shame. Without the law, we would have no voice.”
Smith noted that ten years ago, the U.S. was “doing almost nothing to combat trafficking.” He explained that getting support for the anti-trafficking legislation in Congress was extremely difficult when he first proposed it in 1998.
“Reports of vulnerable persons-especially women and children-being reduced to commodities for sale were often met with surprise, incredulity or indifference,” recounted Smith. “It took two years to overcome opponents and muster the votes for passage.”
According to Smith, nearly 900 U.S. children have been rescued from sexual exploitation, while over 500 pimps, madams, and others involved in the grisly business have been convicted of their crimes in state and federal courts, thanks to TVPA.
Prosecutions and convictions of human traffickers have also skyrocketed. Smith pointed out that 1,187 investigations were opened in the past nine years – an increase of 586 percent over the previous nine year period. During this time, he said at least 92 criminal enterprises were disrupted, with 44 ending up dismantled.
“The most important thing we can do is shine a light on these problems, not only so that we can prosecute these people and put them in jail, but also get the victims of these crimes, the services they need in order to survive these crimes,” said Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
Smith also emphasized Guadagno’s point that more must be done to rescue victims of human trafficking.
“These children, when found, are often wrongly charged for prostitution, fined or put in juvenile detention, and then released-still broken and vulnerable-back to the streets and their traffickers,” said Smith. “These children must be recognized as the trafficking victims that the TVPA declares them to be, and offered rehabilitation to break free from the emotional chains of abuse.”
Smith cited the fact that the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates at least 100,000 American children end up exploited in the commercial sex industry every year. The average age of enslavement is 13 years old. The U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Office estimates more than 12 million people worldwide are trafficking victims, although some groups believe there may be at least 27 million victims.
“In sum, much has been accomplished during the decade after enactment of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act-instances of human trafficking have been prevented, victims rescued and protected and traffickers prosecuted and thrown into jail. Major challenges, however, remain,” he said. “It falls to each of us-and like-minded people everywhere-to wage an unceasing campaign to eradicate human trafficking from the face of the earth.”