“Each year an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 human beings are bought, sold, or forced across the world’s borders [2003 U.S. State Department estimate]. Among them are hundreds of thousands of teenage girls, and others as young as 5, who fall victim to the sex trade.
There’s a special evil in the abuse and exploitation of the most innocent and vulnerable. The victims of [the] sex trade see little of life before they see the very worst of life, an underground of brutality and lonely fear. Those who create these victims and profit from their suffering must be severely punished. Those who patronize this industry debase themselves and deepen the misery of others.”
– Former President Bush, addressing the U.N. General Assembly, September 23, 2003
The Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (“CEOS”) plays a key role in meeting President Bush’s goal that those who profit from the trafficking of children for sexual purposes, and those who travel to engage in sex with children, be brought to justice. CEOS, working together with the United States Attorney’s Offices around the country, prosecutes cases arising under federal statutes prohibiting interstate and international sex trafficking of women and children and travel to engage in sex with children. CEOS also plays a role in developing policies and statutes that will help eradicate this problem.
Sex trafficking is nothing less than slavery. When an offender takes a woman or girl against her will and forces her to engage in prostitution, that offender has stolen her freedom and her dignity. Much sex trafficking is international, with victims being taken from places such as South and Southeast Asia, the former Soviet Union, Central and South America, and other less-developed areas to more developed places including Asia, the Middle East, Western Europe, and North America. CEOS is committed to fighting this international scourge.
Unfortunately, however, much sex trafficking is also domestic. For example, the interstate sex trafficking of minors is a growing problem. A 2001 report by the University of Pennsylvania estimated that about 293,000 American youth are currently at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Most of these children are either runaways or have been abandoned by their families and live on the streets. CEOS, together with the United States Attorney’s Offices in 14 areas where commercial sexual exploitation of children has been identified as a problem, is currently working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on an initiative to investigate and prosecute those who would commercially exploit our children.
Federal statutes governing trafficking and sex tourism include 18 U.S.C. §§ 1591, 2421, 2422, and 2423. Together, these statutes prohibit sex tourism and the interstate and international sex trafficking of adults and children, as well as sex trafficking within a state. For example, 18 U.S.C. § 1591, as amended by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, prohibits trafficking by making it illegal to recruit, entice, or obtain a person to engage in commercial sex acts, or to benefit from such activities. The law applies to victims of any age; if the victim is over 18, however, it applies only if force, fraud, or coercion is used to cause the victim to engage in a commercial sex act. The law does not require the victims to have crossed a state or international boundary. Those who traffic victims in violation of this statute may face up to life in prison.
18 U.S.C. §§ 2421-2423 also cover interstate and international sex trafficking, but generally require that actual travel across a state or international boundary or other interstate activity has taken place. Some of the key provisions that hold the traffickers accountable are: 18 U.S.C. § 2421, which prohibits transporting a person across state or international boundaries for the purposes of prostitution or other unlawful sexual activity and carries a 10 year maximum sentence; 18 U.S.C. § 2422(a), which prohibits enticing or coercing a person to travel across a state or international boundary in order to engage in prostitution or other unlawful sexual activity and carries a 20 year maximum sentence; 18 U.S.C. § 2422(b), which prohibits using the mail or other interstate communications such as the telephone or the Internet to entice or coerce a person under 18 to engage in prostitution or other unlawful sexual activity and carries a 5 year minimum sentence and a 30 year maximum sentence; and 18 U.S.C. § 2423(a), which prohibits transporting a person under 18 across state or international boundaries for the purposes of prostitution or other unlawful sexual activity and carries a 5 year minimum, 30 year maximum penalty.
Those who profit from victimizing children and adults in the sex trade are only one half of the problem. The other half are those who patronize this exploitive industry. Federal statutes hold those who travel to do so, and those who benefit from arranging that travel, accountable. For example, 18 U.S.C. § 2423(b) prohibits traveling across state lines or into the United States for the purpose of engaging in any illicit sexual conduct (which includes any commercial sex act with a person under 18) and carries a 30 year maximum sentence, while 18 U.S.C. § 2423(c) prohibits an American citizen or national engaging in illicit sexual conduct outside the United States and carries a 30 year maximum sentence. 18 U.S.C. § 2423(c) does not require that the citizen have traveled outside the country with the purpose of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign country. 18 U.S.C. § 2423(d) prohibits arranging or facilitating, for financial gain, another person’s travel to engage in illicit sexual conduct and carries a 30 year maximum sentence.
Sex trafficking and sex tourism are heinous crimes that victimize the most vulnerable among us. Federal law gives prosecutors tools to bring those who commit these crimes to justice. CEOS is working with law enforcement agencies and with the United States Attorney’s Offices around the country to make sure those tools are used to their fullest extent.