Tuesday, February 25, 2003
WASHINGTON The Justice Department has more than doubled its prosecutions and convictions of sex traffickers after opening a record number of investigations into the crime, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Tuesday.
The Department prosecuted 76 alleged sex traffickers in the last two years, three times as many as in the previous two years. It also has opened trafficking investigations in 46 states and every U.S. territory.
"Sex trafficking is more than just a serious violation of the law," Ashcroft told an international conference on the issue. "It is an affront to human dignity. It is an assault on human values."
The State Department estimates that about 4 million victims, mostly women and children, are taken each year and sold into the sex trade or forced labor. About 50,000 are trafficked into the United States, mainly from Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Latin America and Southeast Asia.
"This is an industry that already brings the hard criminals running it some $7 billion a year in business so lucrative that our intelligence community estimates that it will outstrip the illicit trade of guns and narcotics within a decade," Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told the conference in separate remarks.
Ashcroft said improved technology has made it easier for traffickers to move their victims across borders, making the offense a "transnational criminal enterprise."
"As the reports of human trafficking continue to increase, we are reminded sharply that no state, no territory, no nation is immune from these crimes," he said.
Most traffickers keep their victims from seeking help by exploiting their fear of being discovered as illegal immigrants, Ashcroft said. But many victims are eligible to receive special visa status if they cooperate with authorities and prosecutors, he said.
Already, the Immigration and Naturalization Service has helped hundreds of trafficking victims process special visa applications that would allow them to receive immigration benefits similar to those given refugees.
"It allows victims to remain in the United States and allows us to turn the exploitive tactics of traffickers against them," Ashcroft said.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department's Office for Victims of Crime awarded a dozen grants worth $9.5 million to help provide medical, legal, psychological and other services for trafficking victims.
"We must and we will continue to work together to protect the victims of trafficking and to bring to justice all those who violate their human dignity," Ashcroft said.
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