Evangelical groups are trying to forge a coalition with other religious groups and feminists to support antisexual-trafficking legislation introduced by U.S. Reps. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) and Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio). Though the bill includes trade sanctions, White House opposition seems to be softening.
The congressional legislation considers sexual trafficking as the coercion and transportation of women and children into the international sex trade. The U.S. State Department estimates that more than 2 million people—50,000 of them in the United States—are victims of such abuse each year. Smith calls it "a sinister trade" that violates "the God-given dignity and integrity of each individual."
However, in recent years religious groups have divided over the use of trade sanctions against nations that permit religious persecution. Rich Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals believes the sanctions provisions in the antisexual-trafficking legislation should gain broad support because they are modeled on those passed last year as part of the International Religious Persecution Act. In the Smith-Kaptur bill, the President would be able to cut off nonhumanitarian foreign aid to a country that permits sexual trafficking.
Still, Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) have introduced legislation that would drop most of the sanctions provisions. Jay Lenter of the National Council of Churches says evangelical insistence on sanctions is preventing a unified religious front on trafficking legislation.
Some feminist groups have argued that antisexual-trafficking legislation should include a provision legalizing prostitution to reduce the incentive to crime groups.1
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