Weekly Columns

Since the passage of the landmark Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, the United States has been a leader in the international community’s fight to end modern day slavery.  This law ushered in a new strategy that addressed human trafficking on multiple fronts.

Combining strong protections for victims—including sheltering and asylum—with tough punishments for traffickers—including long jail sentences and asset confiscation—and, most importantly, sanctions for offending governments, the law has enabled us to crack down on some of the biggest international human smuggling rings.

The most recent statistics show that during the twelve-year period from 2000-2012, over 1,100 traffickers were charged in the U.S., resulting in 755 successful convictions.

The implementation of this innovative law has clearly solidified our role as a leader in the global fight to end human trafficking. Much of the success can be attributed to the dedication State Department leadership and employees—in both the Bush and Obama Administrations—have shown to addressing the crisis. Without individuals committed to these programs, the law lacks any power to make a difference. So I commend those who have helped us achieve the goals outlined by this law.

However, our efforts are hurt by the actions of few bad apples in the Department who contribute to the demand for the human sex trade. For a nation that stands tall to face this challenge, these wrongdoings by those on the front lines cannot be tolerated.

A few weeks ago, the Washington Post reported that a high-ranking State Department official was arrested after allegedly soliciting a juvenile for sex. This is just one in a longline of the incidents, the most high-profile of which was the revelation of an internal Office of Inspector General (OIG) memorandum that found that members of the former Secretary of State’s Diplomatic Security detail “engaged prostitutes while on official trips in foreign countries.” The CBS News exposé that uncovered this memorandum noted that the problem was “endemic” and went beyond security detail indiscretions. The 2013 OIG memorandum reportedly alleged that a Department official in Beirut “engaged in sexual assaults” on foreign nationals and that a U.S. Ambassador “routinely ditched” his protective security detail to “solicit sexual favors from prostitutes.”

These wrongdoings fuel the sex trade. Furthermore, the Department’s apathetic responses to these allegations are a black mark on an otherwise proud and successful record of fighting human trafficking.

To address this issue, I joined with sixteen other members of the Senate and House of Representatives to demand answers from Secretary of State John Kerry and the Department’s Inspector General Steve Linick about the extent of this problem and steps that are being taken to remedy it. Since it is clear that the State Department lacks a zero-tolerance policy requiring the dismissal of employees who engage in the solicitation of prostitution, we are calling upon the Department to institute one and vigorously carry it out.

We can be proud of the record the U.S. has built in efforts to end human trafficking. With that record, however, comes a responsibility. Because State Department employees represent the U.S. both home and abroad, they must uphold the values and ideals in which we strongly believe and for which we ask of the international community. If they cannot comply, they must be dismissed.