WASHINGTON — A new regulatory rule that went into effect May 13 modified a policy of President George W. Bush that barred U.S. international aid for organizations that supported either prostitution or sex trafficking.
The new rule does not drop the funding restrictions, which are required by federal law, but the change allows “affiliated entities” — including a separate part of the organization receiving federal funds — to conduct actions in support of prostitution or sex trafficking.
Anti-human trafficking leaders in Congress and some feminists are concerned about the new Obama administration rule.
“Prostitution and sex trafficking are degrading to women and minors, and we should not be in the business of funding organizations that support it,” said Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., at a Capitol Hill press conference on the day the new rule became effective.
Like other trafficking opponents, Chris Smith, R-N.J., co-chairman of the Congressional Human Trafficking Caucus, said the new rules would allow “loopholes” in the congressionally mandated funding ban by allowing overseas groups that receive federal taxpayer funds to share facilities, for instance, with organizations that support trafficking and prostitution.
Smith, who authored a sweeping anti-trafficking law in 2000, wrote the Obama administration opposing the rule and is considering legal action to reverse it.
“The Obama administration is enabling sex trafficking and prostitution by this action,” Smith said.
The new rule has raised concerns among some feminist groups, such as Equality Now, which does not oppose it but has urged careful monitoring of its implementation.
“It is critical that the U.S. government monitor the groups [that receive funding] and make sure they don’t enter into any activity that advocates for the legalization of prostitution or trafficking,” said Taina Bien-Aime, executive director of Equality Now.
Catholic leaders, including members of the Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking, which is led by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, generally declined to comment on the new regulatory rules but emphasized that more efforts are needed to combat trafficking in America and overseas.
“This is a problem that is very significant but is largely unseen,” said Todd Scribner, education outreach coordinator for the Migration and Refugee Services at the bishops’ conference. “Because human trafficking is a direct affront to human dignity, it is important that we work to eliminate it.”
The conference has provided a nationwide network of support services to about 2,000 women and girls who have escaped trafficking over the last two years. The State Department estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year, and approximately 14,500 to 17,500 of them are trafficked into the U.S. annually.
Additionally, more than 300,000 U.S. children are in danger of becoming trafficking victims because of vulnerable circumstances, according to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.
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