Federal Initiatives Aimed at The Continuing Problems of Human Trafficking , Sex Slavery and Exploitation of Children

By: Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair

It was called “Operation Twisted Traveler”—a joint law enforcement initiative between the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that targeted American citizens traveling to Cambodia to have sex with children. Last month, the Justice Department announced the arrest of three American men charged with traveling to Cambodia to sexually abuse children. All three of the men were allegedly previously convicted of sex offenses involving children.

Los Angeles’ Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien issued a statement to the news media, saying: “The men charged in this investigation apparently thought they could pursue their abhorrent desires by leaving the United States to prey on children in another country, but they were sadly mistaken.”

The three men were charged under a federal statute titled “Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Act,” which is more commonly known in the legal community as the “PROTECT Act.” 1/ The statute was enacted on April 30, 2003, and provides that any United States citizen who travels to a foreign country to engage in “illicit sexual conduct” with another person shall face a fine and be subject to imprisonment up to 30 years. The PROTECT Act defines “illicit sexual conduct” as a sex act with a person under 18 years of age that would be a violation of a federal law in the United States or any commercial sex act with a person under 18 years of age. 2/

In addition to the PROTECT Act, there are three additional federal statutes that govern human trafficking and sex tourism: 18 U.S.C. §§§ 2421, 2422, and 1591. Like the PROTECT Act, § 2421 covers interstate and international sex trafficking, generally requiring actual travel across a border, and carries a maximum penalty of 10 years. § 2422 prohibits enticing or coercing a person to travel across a state line or international boundary in order to engage in prostitution or other unlawful sexual activity, and carries a maximum of 20 years. § 1591 prohibits the enticing, recruiting, or obtaining a person to engage in commercial sex acts or to benefit from such activities, and is punishable up to life in prison. 3/

Louis Klarevas is a law professor at New York’s Center for Global Affairs and Christine Buckley is a human rights advocate who co-authored (with Aaron Cohen) Slave Hunter: One Man’s Quest to Free Victims of Human Trafficking (Simon and Schuster 2009). Together, they teamed to co-author a July 15, 2009 Findlaw article titled “Human Trafficking and the Child Protection Compact Act of 2009) which revealed shocking information about the evils of human trafficking and sex tourism, especially as it relates to children. 5/

Klarevas/Buckley pointed to information released by the International Labor Organization that some 12.3 million people—most of them women—are currently the victims of some form of human trafficking. The most disturbing aspect about this staggering statistic is that approximately 2.5 million of the victims are children with 1.8 million of them being exploited each year by the commercial sex industry.

The media reports are endless of Americans traveling to foreign countries to have sex with under-aged prostitutes and children. Even the federal courts have also recognized that “international child-sex tourism is a growing problem.” 4/ However, until recently, these people were seemingly immune from the consequences of the human suffering they were perpetuating.

In 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) [22 U.S.C. § 7101] which Klarevas/Buckley called “the most important anti-trafficking law ever passed” which actually defines human trafficking as follows:

sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is inducted by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or

the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

While the TVPA may be an important piece of legislation, it has had little impact on the level of human trafficking in the United States. According to Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter’s book The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today, somewhere between 14,000 to 17,000 people are trafficked into this country each year with only 1% of these cases ever being investigated, much less prosecuted.

Speaking before Carnegie Council’s New Leaders Program in New York on July 2, 2009, Soodalter told the audience: “The simple truth of it is that Americans have kept slaves, Europeans have kept slaves, humans have kept slaves as long as we were able. We as Americans see ourselves as the world’s foremost messengers and practitioners of personal freedom, whereas in point of fact there has never been one single day on this continent since its European discovery where slavery has not existed. That’s from the day in 1493, when Columbus enslaved hundreds of Taino Indians, right up to the present moment, there has been slavery on the American continent.”

Bales/Soodalter attribute the current rapid growth in human slavery worldwide to the end of the “cold war” between Russia and America which led to a collapse of borders around the world. Mass numbers of people suddenly found themselves politically and socially disenfranchised, forced to survive in an uncaring world. The predators in the human trafficking enterprise saw opportunity in this global misery with millions of people becoming easy potential prey for them.

Being the smallest and most vulnerable, children became the easiest targets for human traffickers who often make them available in the sex tourism business. Within the larger four categories of human trafficking—involuntary servitude, debt bondage, sex trafficking, and organ trafficking—Klarevas/Buckley listed the following four sub-categories of trafficking unique to children:

Forced Child Labor: akin to involuntary servitude, but involving children.

Child Soldiering: recruiting and ordering children to train in military tactics and engage in military patrols and combat.

Child Sexual Servitude: forcing children to be domestic sex slaves.

Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children: trafficking of children for purposes of forcing them into prostitution or pornography.

This nation’s Secretary of State issues a report each year on the progress each country is making combating human trafficking, The 2009 report, Trafficking in Persons (TIP), was issued this past June, and it states that the recent global economic crisis has tremendously increased the number of people susceptible to human trafficking, especially in the area of parents selling their children as a way to pay off debts—a tragic practice that fuels the child sex industry. 6/

In an effort to combat this escalating human tragedy, Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) sponsored legislation titled Child Protection Compact Act of 2009 (CPCA—H.R. 2737) which seeks “to protect and rescue children from trafficking by the establishment of Child Protection Compacts between the United States and select eligible countries with a significant prevalence of trafficking in children.” Smith’s legislation, if approved, would provide funding through grants, cooperative agreements and contracts to eligible governments for programs designed to combat child exploitation and trafficking. Klarevas/Buckley listed the following seven goals the legislation hopes to accomplish with foreign countries:

Evaluation of legal standards and practices and recommendations for improvements that will increase the likelihood of successful prosecutions.

Training anti-trafficking police and investigators.

Building the capacity of domestic nongovernmental organizations to educate vulnerable populations about the danger of trafficking, and to work with law enforcement to identify and rescue them.

Creation of victim-friendly courts.

Development of appropriate after-care facilities for rescued victims.

Development and maintenance of data collection systems.

Development of regional cooperative plans with neighboring countries to prevent cross-border trafficking of children and child sex tourism.

While the CPCA sets forth a noble agenda, it is like most idealistic legislation pushed by the U.S. Congress—it lacks adequate funding to accomplish its objectives. The CPCA calls for spending $50 million over the next three years to promote what Klarevas/Buckley called the “promotion of bilateral compacts.” This meager fiscal effort would give the State Department approximately $16.7 million each year to fund programs in those “select eligible countries” to combat human trafficking. Klarevas/Buckley said this would average out to about $130,000 for each country with the greatest problems in human trafficking.

Klarevas/Buckley conclude: “ … human trafficking is one of the darkest sides to globalization. It occurs everywhere in the world—and it is deplorable, particularly when it exploits children. The CPCA, in conjunction with the TVPA, can truly make a significant impact in protecting society’s most vulnerable victims—but not without a greater, more realistic allocation of funding.”

While we do not believe that throwing money at a problem will make it go away, especially when dealing with deeply embedded sexual desires and unending human greed, if Congress’ could pump $3 billion into a stimulus program that was designed to get “old vehicles” off the nation’s highways, it could certainly provide as much to save the world’s children from the evil of human trafficking that fuels a worldwide perverse demand for sexual exploitation of children. The U.S. Congress has a far greater duty to protect children than to protect the nation’s highways from “clunkers.”


1/ 18 U.S.C. § 2423(b).
2/ 18 U.S.C. § 2423 (c)
3/ http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/ceos/trafficking.html
4/ United States v. Jackson, 480 F.3d 1014 (9th Cir. 2007)
5/ http://writ.news.findlaw.com/commentary/20090715_klarevas_buckley.html
6/ http://www.state.gov/g/tip/rls/tiprpt/2009/

By: Houston Criminal Defense Lawyer John Floyd and Paralegal Billy Sinclair