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Greece, Turkey and Bosnia are on the hot seat this month. They are among 15 countries singled out by the U.S. Department of State in June as failing to combat “trafficking in persons,” otherwise known as modern slavery. The U.S. must halt nonhumanitarian, non-trade-related aid to these countries — and oppose their receiving World Bank aid — unless the president personally issues a waiver. The State Department has advised the transgressing countries — we could call them the “filthy 15″ — that the president will let them off the hook if they show immediate progress. Already, the threat of this aid cutoff has inspired dozens of countries, including Israel, Saudi Arabia and South Korea to intensify their antitrafficking efforts. The looming ultimatum is dictated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, a bill pushed through Congress by an unlikely coalition of feminists and evangelicals. Now, three years after its passage, the act’s penalty provisions are kicking in, and it appears Congress might actually have devised a uniquely effective tool: a human rights report that cannot be ignored. If the law indeed proves to be potent, Congress might consider using a similar set of incentives to achieve more general human rights ends. The problem this law aims to address certainly is an extraordinary one. According to the most recent Central Intelligence Agency estimate, 800,000 to 900,000 people are trafficked annually. Of these, some 18,000 to 20,000 end up in the United States. This count includes all men, women and children who are smuggled across national borders and then exploited, whether as sex workers or sweatshop workers. The problem is especially acute in Eastern Europe. Studies conducted in that region by the nonprofit group International Organization for Migration (IOM) paint a disturbing picture. A typical victim is a Moldovian woman between the ages of 18 and 24 who lives in a poor urban area, with weak community and family ties. Often, she is approached by a female acquaintance and promised a job in Italy as an exotic dancer or something similar. If she accepts, she is driven through Romania and coerced into prostitution in Serbia, utterly under the control of the pimps who trade her from one bar to the next. The story told in the powerful new Swedish film “Lilja 4-Ever” has atypical elements, but, tragically, it’s still quite realistic. The 16-year-old title character, Lilja, is abandoned by her mother in a city in the former Soviet Union and then seduced by a handsome young man who promises her everlasting love and a respectable job, gives her fake documents, and lures her onto a plane to Stockholm. There, Lilja is greeted by a pimp who locks her in an apartment and offers her two choices. She can remain a sex slave, or she can turn herself into the police, in which case she’d be deported to her home, tracked down by the pimp’s gangster friends, and killed. Under the influence of religious right evangelicals, who care intensely about sex trafficking, the Bush administration is using many strategies to make the Lilja scenario less common. The 2000 act created the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, which issues the consequential annual report evaluating the progress, or lack thereof, made by individual countries. But this is only the government’s headline initiative. According to John Miller, who heads the new office, Uncle Sam budgets about $70 million a year to monitor the war on slavery around the world. Its efforts include promoting stronger laws, training prosecutors and funding nonprofits. The U.S. Department of Labor, for instance, has funded a pilot program to create viable job alternatives for at-risk women in seven Eastern European cities, in the hope of preventing that first bad choice by young women like Lilja. To encourage trafficking victims to go to the police, the U.S. Department of Justice now waives immigration penalties like automatic deportation and encourages other countries to do the same. For the luckiest girls and women who escape their captors, the nonprofit IOM provides shelters, repatriation and reintegration services, with funding from the Agency for International Development. To give a sense of scale, IOM programs from around Europe return hundreds of escaped prostitutes each year just to Romania. Lawyers, too, have a role to play in America’s war on sex trafficking. The Justice Department has scattered more than a dozen “resident legal advisers” around Eastern Europe and the former Soviet bloc, mostly serving one- or two-year stints. The war on sex trafficking is one of their top priorities. Barbara Carlin was investigating a senior citizen swindle in Pittsburgh as an Assistant U.S. Attorney before she left for Macedonia. Though her family traces its roots to the Balkans, her knowledge of Macedonia was confined to a few folk songs she’d heard in college. “I had no idea people trafficked in human beings anymore,” she says. “I’d like to see woman lawyers in the U.S. rally to the cause.” Mark Miller was the chief of the narcotics unit at the Kansas City, Mo., U.S. Attorney’s Office and Annette Williams was a sex crimes prosecutor from Biloxi-Gulfport, Miss., when they met at a conference on DNA evidence. Evidently, both were both craving new adventures in love and life. This spring, only six months into their marriage, they began a long honeymoon as the resident legal advisers in Kosovo, arguably the most primitive and desolate posting in all of Europe. Carlin, Miller and Williams were among the lawyers who gathered this May at a conference on sex trafficking in southeastern Europe, organized by the Justice Department at a hotel in Timosoara, Romania. Timosoara is known as the birthplace of the revolt against Nicolae Ceausescu, but it is also, sadly, a crossroads of the Balkans sex trade. As soon as the delegates entered the hotel lobby to register for the conference, some were struck by a terrible irony. Piled on the reception desk were brochures for a strip club in the hotel basement. Below a photograph of a nude dancer, the brochure advertised the club as “USA Style.” The presence of a suspicious club one floor below a roomful of prosecutors highlights the pervasiveness of the sex trade. The promotion of that club as “USA Style” reminded the lawyers gathered in Romania of how America, in ways large and small, has helped to create the problem that its government is trying to solve. “American” is a brand name in pornography, and Hollywood has done its bit to foster a culture where smut is inescapable. Regionally, the lines of blame can be traced more directly. It’s widely admitted that NATO peacekeepers, who count Americans in their ranks, have boosted the demand for Balkan brothels. Even more outrageously, two former DynCorp employees have alleged that coworkers at the U.S. military contractor (which has since been bought by Computer Sciences Corp. and awarded the contract for training Iraq’s new police force) were actively involved in trading Bosnian sex slaves. DynCorp said it handled the allegations appropriately, but one of the whistle-blowers won damages for retaliation in a British court last year, and the second obtained a settlement soon thereafter. As America pressures Bosnia this month to combat the sex trade, Bosnia might very well reply: “Let those who live in glass whorehouses not cast stones.” The State Department’s Miller (along with many of the evangelical activists who support his work) likes to invoke as his model the Victorian-era English abolitionist William Wilberforce, who lived in an age of proud imperialism. Perhaps the analogy works too well, for there’s no doubt that the British helped to create the slave trade that they prodded the world to abolish. Would that the new abolitionists meet with similar success, but show greater humility.

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