Over the past few months the Clinton administration has lobbied for the United Nations to adopt a protocol that would lend legitimacy to prostitution and hard-core pornography.
This effort has been spearheaded by the President's Interagency Council on Women, a group whose honorary chairman is none other than Hillary Rodham Clinton. Although the proposal has drawn opposition from across the political spectrum, the administration is forging ahead with its plans. Whether it succeeds in these morally indefensible ambitions will depend on a crucial U.N. vote scheduled for later this month.
First some background. It's been estimated that each year some two million women and children world-wide are sent into lives of sexual bondage, usually as prostitutes. "Over the last 10 years, the numbers of women and children that have been trafficked have multiplied so that they are now on a par with estimates of the numbers of Africans who were enslaved in the 16th and 17th centuries," according to Laura J. Lederer of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. What we are dealing with, then, is a huge number of human-rights violations.
Yet in Vienna a week from today when the U.N. Convention on Transnational Organized Crime votes on its protocol to combat international trafficking in women and children White House representatives will take the first step toward legitimizing the sexual-trafficking business. Negotiations on this Vienna Protocol have been going on for the past year and a half. Since December, however, the White House delegation has worked to narrow the definition of sexual trafficking, in a way that would allow certain prostitution rings to flourish. It has done so despite the objections of a majority of the G-7 countries and other developing nations, whose women are the principal victims of sex trafficking.
Existing U.N. Convention
To secure its goal, the Clinton administration must effectively repeal an existing U.N. convention that strictly forbids prostitution and requires punishment of any person who "procures, entices or leads away, for the purposes of prostitution ... even with the consent of that person." The Clinton group also believes that international actions against pornography rings should be restricted to pornographers who work without the "consent" of the women they use, thereby granting the international pornography "industry" the sort of legitimacy and legal status it has long sought. Hillary Clinton has been quite active as the honorary chairman of the President's Interagency Council on Women, speaking out about the evils of sexual trafficking. In Reykjavik, Iceland, in October, she said: "No government and no citizen should rest until we stop this modern form of slavery, protect its victims and prosecute those who are responsible." But as is so often the case with the Clintons, what they do is at odds with what they say.
The White House position, should it prevail, would effectively ensure that prostitution and pornography would be treated as legitimate career options for women, as long as women "consent" to it and no force is involved. In defining the term sexual exploitation, the administration has supported using the phrase forced prostitution rather than simply prostitution. In this instance the adjective forced makes all the difference. If the administration's position is accepted, the focus of attention would shift from the profiteers who traffic in women to the supposed state of mind of the victimized women. It would create loopholes long sought by perpetrators, insulating them from criminal prosecution. "Practically speaking, this [new definition] is a virtual bar to prosecution," says J. Robert Flores, a former prosecutor with both the New York District Attorney and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Even if it were practical to distinguish between consent and force in such cases, the administration's position would still contradict common sense and decency. Prostitution and pornography inevitably exploit women, whether they consent to it or not. And it is not only conservatives who are opposed to the administration's policies in this matter.
In a stinging letter sent last week to Mr. Clinton, Gloria Steinem, Patricia Ireland, Eleanor Smeal and other feminist leaders wrote that "the definition of trafficking advocated by the administration would not cover some of the most common methods of sex trafficking which prey on and profit from the economic desperation of women, girls, and their families by securing their 'consent' to sale in prostitution." The letter goes on to explain why narrowing the definition of sexual trafficking will hurt, not help, potential victims.
These objections have been echoed by women's groups from Bangladesh to Ukraine, and by the European Women's Lobby, a human-rights coalition of more than 2,800 dues-paying member organizations. They recognize what the Clinton administration does not: There can be no meaningful "consent" to one's own sexual exploitation particularly when one lives in poverty and desperate circumstances.
The Clinton administration purports to be pro-woman. Nevertheless, in addition to its effort to weaken the Vienna Protocol, the administration has steadfastly opposed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. This bipartisan legislation was passed unanimously by the House International
Relations Committee, with the support of a broad coalition of religious, human-rights and women's groups. The legislation's definition of sex trafficking would include any "purchase, sale, recruitment, harboring, transportation, transfer or receipt of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act."
End to U.S. Subsidies
Mrs. Clinton's Council on Women has opposed the bill because it allegedly imposes "mandatory sanctions" on countries that do not prosecute the most severe forms of trafficking. This is a double standard; the administration supports sanctions against countries that do not adhere to other, far less important standards of commercial conduct. And it is dishonest. The bill requires that the president either end nonhumanitarian foreign aid to offending countries or provide such assistance pursuant to a waiver. The only "sanction" is an end to U.S. subsidies, and even this
sanction is not mandatory.
What, then, needs to be done? First, the Clinton administration should see to it that the Vienna delegation's position is reversed forthwith, well before the final Jan. 17 vote. Second, Congress should uncover the reasons why the administration has taken the current position. Third, the administration should cease its opposition to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
The reasons for the Clinton administration's course of action are hard to fathom. What is certain is that if it does not reverse its course, its actions in Vienna will be counted as yet one more shameful act committed by this deeply corrupt administration.
Mr. Bennett is co-director of Empower America. Mr. Colson is chairman of Prison Fellowship Ministries