Rep. Bob Menendez once gave an impassioned speech on the house floor condemning human trafficking and forced prostitution in arguing for the “Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005,” an anti-sex-slavery law he co-sponsored.
“All of us know the shocking statistics: somewhere between 600 and 800 people per year are forced across borders to become slaves and prostitutes,” Menendez said on December 14, 2005. “If we include those who are trafficked within their own countries, the numbers are even worse, somewhere between 2 and 4 million people. The vast majority of these are women and girls. So as we fight to end trafficking, we are also fighting for the rights of women and girls around the world.”
“It is easy to forget that each of those numbers represents a person, a daughter, a sister, a mother, or a son who is suffering,” he said. “It is easy to forget that each of these people is part of a family that has been torn apart by trafficking, and it is easy to forget that the number of individuals trafficked hides the even greater number of families around the world devastated by trafficking.”
“I am proud to be a co-sponsor and strong supporter of this legislation which reauthorizes programs designed to attack trafficking both here at home and abroad,” he said. He was particularly proud that the legislation “addresses issues of trafficking after natural disasters in postconflict areas.”
He continued: “I cannot imagine the pain that someone goes through after being taken away from their family, their country, and their life,” he said. “I cannot imagine how it feels to be forced into slavery or prostitution, but I do know that we can and we must take action to help these victims as they once again return to their lives.”
Menendez, who stands accused of having sex with underaged prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, said he was “deeply concerned to see that five of the 14 tier 3 countries [worst offenders for child prostitution] are from Latin America or the Caribbean. “These are the countries that are designated as the worst violators. They are not even complying with the minimum standards to eliminate trafficking. Even worse, they are not making a significant effort to be able to change the course of events,” he noted. “I hope that this legislation will have our own hemisphere focused on what they must do to stop the hurting and trafficking of their own people.”
Menendez reminded his colleagues of article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
In 2005 and in 2012, the Dominican Republic was listed by the State Department on the Tier-2 Watch-list.
Countries on the Tier-2 Watch list do not meet the act’s standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards despite falling short.
Characteristics of Tier-2 countries include “absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing,” “a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year” or “the determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.” [Emphasis in original]
In the Dominican Republic, the child sex prostitution situation is said to have gotten worse after the 2011 earthquake in neighboring Haiti. According to the State Department’s 2011 report on the trafficking of persons, Brazil, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua all have significant child sex tourism industries.