Clinton Promises Action Against Human Trafficking

05/25/2011 01:00 pm ET
  • Jim Wallis Christian leader for social change; President and Founder @Sojourners

Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, graced the front pages of many newspapers across the country last Friday. Clinton's qualifications were praised by her Senate colleagues, and John McCain even took fellow Republicans to task for delaying her confirmation. (The Washington Post reports that "A joke made its way around the Capitol yesterday: How do you know the 2008 election is really over? Because John McCain is causing trouble for Republicans again.)

For the past several weeks we have featured on this blog stories and accounts of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict that will undoubtedly be one of Secretary Clinton's greatest challenges. These challenges will be in addition to continued genocide in Darfur, unrest in Zimbabwe, relations with Iran and China, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and countless other global conflicts. I pray for God's wisdom and guidance for our new Secretary of State in all these endeavors, and believe that the Christian community in concert with other people of faith will have much work to do.

With all of these high profile issues that occupy so much space in the news, there is one other issue that can and should be addressed head on and must not be overlooked. Barbara Boxer asked Clinton the question during her confirmation hearing, and this was her response:

As Secretary of State I view these issues (human trafficking) as central to our foreign policy, not as adjunct or auxiliary or in any way lesser from all of the other issues that we have to confront. I too have followed the stories: this is not culture, this is not custom, this is criminal ... I've also read closely Nick Kristof's articles over the last many months on the young women he's both rescued from prostitution and met who have been enslaved, tortured in every way: physically, emotionally, morally and I take very seriously the function of the State Department to lead the U.S. Government through the Office on Human Trafficking to do all that we can to end this modern form of slavery. We have sex slavery. We have wage slavery and it is primarily a slavery of girls and women.

Groups like the International Justice Mission and the documentary Call and Response have been igniting passion and dedication in young people, especially young people of faith across the country.

Ambassador Swanee Hunt wrote a piece for the Huffington Post recently citing that there are an estimated 27 million people in slavery today across the world. Over 300,000 children and adolescents fall prey to the sex industry in the United States every year, their average age 13.

What is especially heartbreaking about this situation is that effective public policy changes are within our reach; we just lack the political will. Time, experience, and statistics have shown that in shutting this industry down, it is necessary to target demand, not supply. Hunt goes on to cite the case study of Sweden:

...The U.S. is far behind the curve in fighting demand. We traveled to Stockholm and Oslo to meet with government officials, researchers, members of parliament, police, and even Queen Silvia to examine how Sweden has forged the way. After years of parliamentary debate, in 1999 Swedes passed the Sex Purchase Law, which criminalized buying and decriminalized selling sex. This placed the emphasis on the buyers, while allowing women to seek help without being fined or deported. In five years, the number of prostituted women in Sweden dropped 40%. Today, the government estimates that less than 400 women are trafficked into the country, while in neighboring Finland it's 17,000.

Our vernacular language and popular culture show the depth of our society's sin. "Pimps and Players" are celebrated macho men, imitated and caricatured as cool and smooth. "Prostitute" is a dirty word used to insult and degrade women.

When I talk and write about finding common ground and shaking off the old categories of left and right, liberal and conservative, this is what I am talking about. Conservative Christians have sounded the alarm about our culture's sexual depravity tearing at the fabric of our society. This is one of those issues. Liberal Christians have decried male dominated public policy that results in oppressive and abusive structures for women and just plain bad policy. This is one of those issues.

Secretary Clinton's early commitment and recognition of these issues should be a central role in our foreign policy and give us the unprecedented opportunity to stop going left or right, but to go deeper, together. I hope and pray that over the course of the next four years, we could see this country take serious steps forward in combating global slavery and ending sex trafficking.

Jim Wallis is the author of The Great Awakening, Editor-in-Chief of Sojourners and blogs at