Trafficking in Women & Sexual Enslavement: A Letter to the U.S. Senate

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of The Shalom Center, has (along with many other religious, activist, and other leaders), signed the following letter to Senators, initiated by the National Black Leadership Roundtable

February XX, 2008
Senator ______________
___________ Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510

Dear Senator ________,
The United States is on the verge of a momentous breakthrough in redressing the slavery and, in many respects, the woman’s issue of our time. This is so because HR 3887, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2007, adopted by the House on December 4 by overwhelming vote and now referred to your Committee, is an instrument that will protect millions of vulnerable and enslaved girls, women and children within our borders and throughout the world.
As a Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, you will thus be in a critical position to determine whether this development will take place.
The diverse signers of this letter range across the country’s religious, ideological and political spectrums. Yet while we differ, often sharply, on many issues of the day, we are united by a determined resolve to end the abuses which the Wilberforce Act will effectively combat.
As such, we are implacably committed to work for the passage of the historic bill now referred to your Committee.
The House-passed bill is the product of years of experience and careful thinking about how best to combat domestic and worldwide trafficking. The signers of this letter believe that its passage will allow the United States to combat modern-day forms of slavery with an effectiveness comparable to that of 19th century efforts to combat the chattel enslavement of Africans. The parallels between both efforts are further made clear by the fact that African Americans and Latinos are the persons most victimized by domestic traffickers, and by the fact that today’s traffickers inflict great harm on those who are most vulnerable: young people of color, often immigrants, often children, almost always women, almost always poor.
Among its many features, the House-passed bill will:
o strengthen the ability of the State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Office to reduce worldwide labor slavery and sex trafficking, doing so by such means as enhancing the tools with which the Office can press foreign governments to combat the traffickers operating within their midsts;
o treat domestic and internationally trafficking as seamlessly interconnected, based on the correct understanding that the United States government cannot effectively reduce international trafficking if it fails to vigorously combat our own trafficking slavery;
o ensure that the TVPA’s domestic crime provisions treat proof of fraud, force, or coercion, or the use of minors by sex traffickers, as grounds for enhanced punishment and not as the sole bases for convictions – a step that will ensure more resource-efficient use of prosecutorial resources; diminish acts of fraud, force
and coercion by traffickers; produce more effective deterrence of criminal trafficking activities; and put to an end today’s anomalous similarity between the TVPA and the laws of countries that legalize prostitution;
o place the United States in vigorous and effective opposition to the growing use of child soldiers around the world; and
The Act will also greatly serve American national interests putting America on the right side of a 21st Century history destined to increasingly ensure the emancipation and empowerment of women. It will serve as a badly needed lesson that red and blue, liberal and conservative, Democratic and Republican Americans share basic values and can work together to cause them to be effectively implemented. It will build on the extraordinary records of Ambassadors John Miller and Mark Lagon and honor the leadership of key Members of Congress who have, in less than a decade, made the United States the world leader in the battle against trafficking.
We note that the House-passed bill is the product of careful and in some cases fragile compromises between many interested parties. We thus hope that no effort will be made to enact an “ideal” law that stands in the way of enacting the extraordinary bill now before your Committee.
There is one change to the House bill, however, that we urge the Committee to enact. We ask you to ensure that the anti-trafficking awards authorized by Section 109 of the House bill are renamed as the “Paul and Sheila Wellstone Presidential Awards.” Such a step would recognize the Wellstones’ shared vision and legacy, and honor the instrumental roles they jointly played in the TVPA’s initial passage.
What was said by Senator Brownback in his concluding remarks in support of an earlier TVPA reauthorization bill is, we believe, even more true of the extraordinary bill now before your Committee, and we thus believe it fitting to note those remarks:
[T]he memory and spirit of Paul and Sheila Wellstone are alive in the bill ... as are the spirits of such activists as the great English Parliamentarian and evangelist William Wilberforce, and the abolitionist leaders ... who led the 19th century war against chattel enslavement of African men and women. If we do it right [we] will be seen by generations to come to have met the high standards of William Wilberforce and the Free Kansas activists. If we do it right, we will have created a true monument to the memory of Paul and Sheila Wellstone.
The bill before you “do[es] it right,” and will permit 2008 to be a year in which America takes quantum steps to end the reigns of terror and enslavement practiced by traffickers operating within our country and throughout the world.
We remain at your pleasure to discuss the provisions of HR 3887, and we urge you to work with us for its rapid passage.
[Signers Currently Being Collected and Will All Be Added Shortly]