Thursday, November 08, 2007

Testimony of Sharon Cohn - IJM

Testimony of Sharon Cohn, International Justice Mission (IJM)
Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thank you, Chairman Lantos and Representative Ros-Lehtinen for holding this important hearing on slavery and trafficking, and for inviting me to testify. My name is Sharon Cohn, and I serve as the Senior Vice President of Justice Operations at the International Justice Mission. IJM is a faith-based human rights service organization that exists to protect people from violent forms of injustice by securing rescue and restoration for victims and accountability for perpetrators. I would like to reflect on some of the lessons we have learned from years of casework on behalf of individual victims of slavery and trafficking in seven of our fourteen overseas offices.

If you will permit me, Mr. Chairman, I would like to direct the attention of the Committee to two photographs from Cambodia. The first was taken by in February, 2003 by IJM under-cover investigators. These little girls, who were Vietnamese trafficking victims, were being offered for sex to pedophiles from the West. The other photograph is some of the same children in July 2007 – four years after they were removed from the brothel and provided with intensive health care and mental health services, a home, and loving caregivers.

I would like to use IJM’s experience with the rescue of these little girls to make the following points:

Restoration and After-care: First, as these photos suggest, even the youngest and most grossly exploited children can be reclaimed and restored. IJM’s former clients are happy and healthy students, developing skills that will serve them well through life. Thanks to inspired after-care, these children will be in a good home until they are adults.

Among the many lessons from the field that we have learned is that the sooner children can be removed from sexual exploitation, the more complete will be the recovery of their mental and physical health. It is essential that they be provided with comprehensive, long-term trauma care, shelter, education, and life skills and that they are protected from former pimps and brothel owners who are often eager to secure the recovery of their “property.”

To be sure, the overwhelming majority of trafficking victims are older than the clients depicted in these pictures, however, our experience everywhere we have worked, is that aftercare is a long term resource intensive investment, but that it can be successful. One area we would like to bring to the Committee’s attention that is vital to the recovery and reintegration of trafficking victims is education and sustainable employment for girls once they reach adulthood. We see a need for investments in this area everywhere we work on sex trafficking cases.

In our anti-trafficking work in Cambodia, Thailand, India, and the Philippines, IJM has found that often university-trained social workers lack training in addressing sexual trauma among trafficking victims. (Note: The same can be said with regard to minor victims of rape or sexual violence unrelated to prostitution.) IJM provides this training to our own local staff, but, given the great need for trauma assistance for child and adult victims of sexual violence, we would like to see governments and international donors help local universities incorporate this area of study into social work curricula.

Diplomacy and Political Pressure: IJM’s experience in Cambodia provides a vivid example of the important role that U.S. diplomacy can play in encouraging governments to take action against trafficking. The Government of Cambodia tolerated the sale of young children for many years. International experts credit the deployment of international peacekeepers in Cambodia in the 1990’s with the demand for young children for sexual exploitation. The youngest girls are Vietnamese children trafficked into Cambodia or sold by their families.

IJM investigators identified these and other pre-pubescent girls in Sway Pak in 2002 and appealed without success for official intervention on their behalf. It was not until 2003, after high-level diplomatic efforts by U.S. Ambassador Charles Ray, who invoked the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, that the Cambodian authorities made a decision at the ministerial level to address the issue of child sexual exploitation. In March of that year, General Un Sokunthea assigned 80 police officers to work with IJM. Police intervened in the specific brothels in Sway Pak where these children were for sale. They arrested 13 perpetrators and removed 37 victims under the age of 18, including ten girls under 10 years of age; the youngest was 5.

Clearly, countries differ in their susceptibility to U.S. pressure; however evidence clearly indicates that many victims have benefited from the State Department Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking (G-TIP) review process. When U.S. government officials not only at G-TIP but across the USG, including our embassies, convey American seriousness about the TVPA, trafficking victims benefit.

Limitations Due to Lack of Capacity: In countries with a significant trafficking problem, some degree of official complicity is almost invariably a factor. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how brothel owners, pimps and traffickers could openly violate national laws were not local authorities at least willing to turn a blind eye. But not every infirmity of local law enforcement or judicial process is attributable to corruption. In Cambodia, for example, where IJM has since 2004 trained over 600 Cambodian National Police in the Juvenile Protection and Anti Human Trafficking Unit. We have found them to be eager students – with much to learn. In one training simulation, for example, our training staff observed that offenders were not searched or disarmed and the back door was not secured before participants entered the front. Even such elementary steps to secure their own protection were neglected. With proper training and mentoring, these skills and others necessary to securing victims and apprehending perpetrators were developed.

General Un Sokunthea, the commander of the Juvenile Protection and Anti-Trafficking Unit of the Cambodian National Police visited Washington last month and met with State Department officials. She reported on some of the child protection procedures that the Juvenile Protection and Anti-Trafficking Unit has incorporated into its operations. For example, police in her unit now routinely secure a legal advocate for child victims so as to protect them throughout the process of prosecution of perpetrators. She has instituted private interview rooms for child victims, as well. These are things that we arranged for our clients with the officers we trained; that her unit is now routinely offering such protection to trafficked children is an example of the structural changes that can come from individual casework.

IJM’s experience in training the Cambodian police provides another lesson we have learned about combating the crime of sex trafficking. Cambodia is a country that has a very long way to go before it meets international human rights standards. IJM’s successful collaboration with the Cambodian authorities on child sexual exploitation cases does not exonerate the authorities for a significant pattern of human rights abuses in many areas. Nor does it mean that police malfeasance has ended. It does suggest that is possible to achieve very real gains against trafficking and child sexual exploitation even in such difficult circumstances as Cambodia’s. The elements that contributed are the creation of a separate anti-trafficking force, the leadership that General Un has shown, police training, and the continued interest and pressure of the United States on trafficking.

Effective Law Enforcement Creates Deterrence: Since the 2003 police operation in Sway Pak, IJM has worked with Cambodian police and prosecutors to secure the conviction under Cambodian law of 77 pimps, brothel owners, customers, and traffickers for the sexual exploitation of children. While it is still possible to locate children in the commercial sex industry in Cambodia, there appears to be a significant reduction in their number.

Trafficking is an economic crime. Trafficking enterprises, like other businesses, display their wares in a market, and markets need to ensure that the demand can find the supply. It is not hard to find trafficking victims. Inebriated perverts who want to have sex with children are able to find the victims. IJM investigators are also able to find the victims. So, why can’t the police find the victims? Human trafficking thrives only when and where the local enforcement authorities decide that they will not intervene to stop it. They don’t stop it because they are overworked and understaffed, poorly trained or bribed.

It has been IJM’s experience that the cost incurred to brothel owners and pimps of securing a minor into prostitution is quickly made up by the income generated by offering the victim to many customers, many times. For example, the brothel where these children were located offered them for oral sex for $30 per act. To extrapolate, even if each of the 37 rescued girls had performed sex acts only once a day for the previous year, at $30 an act the perpetrators’ total gross receipts for the year would have been more than $400,000. Per capita income in Cambodia in 2004 was $2,000. A Cambodian policeman’s salary at the time was approximately $43 per month. The economics of sex trafficking and the poverty-level wages of local police illustrate why they are so vulnerable to corruption.

But if even a few traffickers and bar or brothel owners offering minor children to customers are prosecuted and convicted, traffickers must incorporate the potential cost of jail against their future earnings. Increased security and measures to offer trafficking victims to only trusted customers quickly erodes the profits to be made. At a certain point – well before every case has been investigated and prosecuted – the risk of selling minors simply outweighs the benefits.

A recent internal review of operations conducted by International Justice Mission suggests that strong law enforcement has effectively ended the open exploitation of minors in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s commercial sex industry. A comparison of data collected in undercover investigations between 1998 and 2002, with data from a comprehensive July 2006 survey, found that the percentage of minors in the industry has fallen from approximately 10% of all women in prostitution to less than 1%. Only 1 minor was found in July 2006, out of over 428 women in prostitution surveyed.

This represents a radical change in Chiang Mai’s commercial sex industry where finding a minor for commercial sexual exploitation used to be as simple as walking into a brothel and asking for one. Commercial sex operators repeatedly said that they no longer use minors because of stricter law enforcement: the police no longer allowed young girls to work in the brothels. IJM’s anecdotal experience over a seven-year period in Chiang Mai and the anecdotal evidence of its operational survey strongly suggest that law enforcement can indeed have a deterrent effect on the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable minors.

No comments: