Obama order might help DCF fight against child sex slavery

The Obama administration Tuesday morning issued an executive order stepping up enforcement against goverment contractors that do business overseas and engage in or fail to report knowledge of human trafficking.

The order prohibits companies under federal contract from using misleading ads and similar tactics to recruit and effectively enslave workers; and it forbids them from engaging in or failing to report instances of “procurement of commercial sex acts.”

“Companies have to now take steps to ensure it’s not happening on their watch,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat and co-chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Human Trafficking Caucus.

The order primarily addresses practices that exploit foreign laborers, but also intersects with one of the state Department of Children and Families’ top priorities — shutting down child sex slavery in Connecticut.

Blumenthal said he has no reason to believe that there are any Connecticut companies with federal contracts that have engaged in such activity, but these mandated reporting requirements aimed at both domestic and companies overseas receiving federal money will oblige them to inform the government when they do discover such incidents.

While a group of child advocates applauded the executive order at the state Capitol complex Tuesday, it is unclear how much impact it will have on efforts to shut off the international sex slavery spigot. DCF reports that it is aware of one child from another country being sold for sex in Connecticut, but fears many cases are going unreported.

“For every one we know about there are probably 100 [cases] we don’t know about,” Teresa Younger, executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women said Tuesday afternoon shortly after the executive order was released.

Blumenthal acknowledged the executive order only goes so far in addressing the overall problem of child sex slavery. In Connecticut, while DCF reports 100 children have been sold for sex in the last five years, only a handful of pimps have been prosecuted.

“Legislation is necessary. The president has gone as far as he can,” said Blumenthal, noting his proposed bill would also impose criminal fines on government contractors that ignore sex and labor trafficking laws.

Conflicting bills approved by House and Senate committees have yet to be resolved. Gary Levvis, the coordinator of the University of Connecticut’s Children’s Rights Education Project told the state’s sex trafficking task force earlier this year that the House bill focuses more on curbing domestic trafficking while the Senate bill aims more internationally.

Obama’s order on Tuesday is strictly based on addressing labor and sex trafficking overseas by those who are working under a federal contracts.

“This is a zero-tolerance policy,” Blumenthal said.

As far as curbing domestic sex trafficking goes, Younger said that she is working with state officials to come up with some solutions to boost enforcement and identification of victims.

The state Department of Children and Families launched earlier what they describe as a “frontal assault” on sex trafficking of children. The initiative includes training local police departments, school districts and hospital staff  to identify sexually exploited children. DCF is also asking police to treat child prostitutes they come across as victims, rather than criminals.

DCF Commissioner Joette Katz in a statement called the executive Order, “another weapon in the fight against human trafficking domestically and abroad… As DCF has experienced first-hand through our own anti-trafficking efforts, the number of children and families impacted by this crime often are invisible to the public. The signing of this Executive Order will call attention to and strengthen existing DCF efforts to combat the modern-day slavery of too many innocent victims.”