WAPPP takes on the sex trade
Marks MPA 1991
was a feisty 13-year-old Filipina, a street kid from a family of squatters
in Manila. When recruiters offered her a chance to work in Saipan
an American territory she jumped at the opportunity. She packed
a few belongings and was flown to her new home. But instead of waiting
tables, she claims she was forced to dance nude on stage and engage in
graphic, lewd acts before crowds of rowdy men. Sometimes a man would get
up on stage, strip and aggressively fondle her. "I learned how to use
cough medicine so that I don't know what I'm doing," she said. "I was
treated like an animal."
not her real name, is one of millions of women and children tricked or
forced into the sex trade around the world each year. The shadowy, multibillion
dollar business is by all accounts growing rapidly due to the recent Asian
financial crisis and the economic dislocation brought about by the fall
of Communism. Many international law enforcement officials believe the
trafficking of women and children is now more lucrative than the drug
trade for Russian organized crime syndicates.
a drug sale and it's done, you get one sale," says Laura Lederer, research
director of the Protection
Project, a part of the Kennedy School's Women
and Public Policy Program (WAPPP). "But you take a human body
a person, and you can use that person over and over again, once they're
evidence of the growth of the sex trade, coupled with the unusual brutality
of the Russian Mafia, has more sharply focused government and law enforcement
agencies' attention on the problem worldwide.
States and the European Union, in particular, have begun exploring new
legislation to combat the traffickers. They're also supporting education
campaigns to warn vulnerable women of the traffickers' tricks, and social
services to help women who've escaped, rebuild their lives.
and police around the world face common stumbling blocks. Their resources
are minute compared to the enormity of the problem. They're also working
with a stunning lack of information. No one knows exactly how many women
and children are sexually exploited for commercial reasons each year.
The estimates range as high as 30 million. The legal statutes designed
to punish the recruiters, traffickers, and pimps are also different in
every country which makes it easier for perpetrators to elude prosecution.
about as many pernicious social ills as one could imagine," says Jonathan
Winer, deputy assistant secretary of state for teh Bureau
for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL). "It's criminal
activity, it's the systemic violation of the human rights, it's fraud,
extortion, violent organized crime, and often involves the corruption
of public officials."
from the State Department, UNICEF,
several women's foundations, and church organizations, the Protection
Project is creating a comprehensive database that will be pivotal in developing
a solid grasp on the scope of the sexual commercial exploitation worldwide
and devising comprehensive international strategies to combat it.
Project is headed up by Frederick
Schauer, the project's principal investigator, who is the Frank Stanton
Professor of the First Amendment and the Kennedy School's academic dean.
to come up with boundary solutions to cross-boundary problems," says Schauer.
"We're also trying to analyze the extent to which laws and law enforcement
make a difference in dealing with a problem of increasingly catastrophic
questionnaire about the types of statutes that exist on prostitution,
child prostitution, pimping, pandering, and trafficking have been sent
to more than 190 countries. A second questionnaire asks for a rundown
of the national laws that deal with pornography and the Internet. A third
will go out in the near future that will ask about the scope of the problem
in each country and how it's measured, as well as other issues related
to the sex trade. "There's a real urgency about the problem, women and
children are being hurt," says Lederer. "But we need to be measured and
make policy decisions from a good, solid base of information."The database
should be completed in the next year; the comparative legal analysis will
be done by the year 2000, along with model legislation tailored to different
legal systems around the world.
None of it
will sit on any library shelf for long. Human rights groups, legal scholars,
and public policy officials are planning to use the work to make critical
decisions on how to build an international consensus and legal framework
for combating sex trafficking and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation.
kind of practical research that WAPPP, the Kennedy School's new policy
center, is determined to champion. "We are very interested in looking
at policies that impact women's lives, as well as women who are shaping
policies," says Ambassador
Swanee Hunt, director of WAPPP and head of the U.S. delegation to
the 1996 EU conference on trafficking.
to have one of the top minds at the Kennedy School leading this effort
with Fred Schauer as principal investigator," says Hunt. "This work follows
the strong interest he has had in this field for many years."
Project focuses on a subject that is of passionate interest to the American
Justice Department and the Department of State, which are both headed
by women. At President Clinton's direction, Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright, chair of the Inter Agency Council on Women, has made combating
the trafficking of women and children a top priority.
"The European Union has been focusing in on trafficking for sexual exploitation
purposes," says Carla Menares Bury, a foreign affairs officer at INL.
"In the United States we're trying to broaden that to include not only
trafficking for prostitution and sexual exploitation, but for other forms
of labor exploitation sweat shops and domestic servitude
As the former
Ambassador to Austria, Hunt says the analysis and model legislation that
will result from the Protection Project work will give the United States
and others practical tools that can reap concrete policy benefits. "It
is one thing to go to a country and say, 'You ought to be doing something
about this,'" says Hunt. "It's quite another to say, 'We want you to look
at this legislation that's being used in such and such a place and see
if it can help you.' You find some very good policymakers who are simply
overwhelmed. If you can come to them with the legislation and the analysis,
you give them the tools to do what they may have wanted to do anyway."
State Department survey found that Asia, Nepal, the Philippines, and Thailand
are the primary sources for trafficked women and children. In Eastern
and Central Europe, most women are recruited in the Ukraine, Russia, and
But the problem
extends as far away as Latin America. The recruiters tell the women they
are either going to be waitresses or dancers. When they arrive at their
new country, often in Western Europe, Asia and increasingly the United
States, their passports are usually taken away, they're beaten up and
raped and told to pay off the costs of travel. They end up working essentially
for free for an extended time.
frightened, don't speak the language in the country to which they've been
brought, and don't know what to do, they tend to be exploited for long
periods of time. That's exacerbated by a lack of enforcement. Very few
arrests have been made in this area, according to James Finkenauer, director
of the International Center at the National Institute of Justice. And
there have been even fewer prosecutions.
know that law enforcement has taken this problem particularly seriously,
in part because they're feeling overwhelmed by other international and
transnational crime problems," says Finkenauer. "They haven't given sufficient
attention to it."
In many European
countries, prostitution is either legal or semi-legal and that had further
diminished the importance of the issue in some countries. But according
to Winer, that is beginning to change. "There's been an increasingly rapid
understanding that this is not a victimless crime, and sexual tolerance
needs to be distinguished from toleration of trafficking of women," says
in Saipan turned out to be luckier than most. After a year of being exploited,
and having her wages garnished and sometimes withheld, she went to the
Philippine Consul General and complained. Because Saipan is a U.S. trust
territory, the U.S. Department of Labor
filed a civil suit on her behalf and the Department
of Justice has filed a criminal case. An American adopted her and
she has returned to school as she tries to rebuild her life.
behind closed doors, she told a committee of U.S. senators her story and
urged them to do more to stop the trafficking in women particularly
in the U.S. trust territories.
the laws to help other girls and workers," she said. "Otherwise human
beings will still be treated like animals. Young girls like me will still
dance naked in bars instead of going to school. They will still learn
to be prostitutes. They will have no childhood."