Center studies sex exploitation

Sascha Matuszak

A tiny organization housed in the Hubert H. Humphrey Center is leading an assault on commercial sexual exploitation around the world.
The Center on Speech, Equality and Harm is directed by Laura Lederer. She said the organization is devoted to stimulating discussion and debate over such issues as hate speech, child pornography and the exploitation of women.
The program is sponsored by the Center on Women and Public Policy and was established in 1993 during a conference at the University of Chicago Law School.
The Center on Speech, Equality and Harm’s new project is called: Creating an International Framework for Legislation to Protect Women and Children from Commercial Sexual Exploitation. It’s the next step in a campaign that has been recognized by the Second World Congress in Stockholm, Sweden. The center submitted a report in 1996 to the world congress on child pornography.
The center started work on the project in March 1997 and it should take at least two years to complete. The aim is to create a database of information concerning various countries’ legislation on pornography, prostitution and trafficking. In turn, each country will use this information to strengthen their own laws and enforcement of these laws.
“We want to get a whole range of information so we can make an extensive model of legislation in order to make changes,” said Amalia Mendoza, the project’s senior legal researcher.
The project is being funded in part by a $230,000 grant from the U.S. State Department. The project is also being aided by private individuals and organizations including religious groups.
The research and computing work is done entirely by University students and researchers affiliated with the Law School. The center is also being guided by an international and regional panel of experts ranging from legal scholars to theorists to members of UNICEF.
The researchers are in the middle of the information gathering process, which consists of sending questionnaires to the Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs of 191 states and territories. Nongovernmental organizations are also being contacted in order to gain non-official information. For example, the center will obtain information on such issues as enforcement, which are not covered by the laws and legislation.
Lederer said she hopes to create awareness within the global community, while also creating model legislation for countries to analyze and compare with their own.
“Our goal is to create a baseline of information in order to facilitate international cooperation and identify loopholes (in legislation concerning commercial sexual exploitation).”
This baseline of information should point out clearly where countries stand on these issues. This includes defining the meaning of pornography and prostitution and agreeing on the age of consent. For example, in Japan a child is defined as anyone under 21; in Tanzania the age is 12.
The range of penalties, the patterns of sentencing and the existence of possible defense arguments to charges of pornography trafficking are priority issues for the group. Whether the country has a “tripartite law” — prohibiting production, distribution and possession of pornography — will also be scrutinized.
The Netherlands, for example, has a defense based on educational, therapeutic or scientific aims of pornography. Canada allows for pornography if it is artistic. Both of these countries possess a tripartite law.
The “Protection Project,” as the program has been deemed, is building on projects of the past which pointed out specific trends and patterns in the exploitation of women and children.
A specific trend is the movement of pornography from Third World countries, where production of certain kinds of pornography is often legal or ignored, to First World countries where possession is legal but production is sometimes not.
Many Third World countries do not have specific legislation prohibiting trafficking of pornography. With the advent of the Internet, commercial exploitation has found a venue which lacks regulation in First World countries, not to mention developing countries, said Lederer.
These countries are often targets of rich, western executives who take advantage of the lax laws regarding prostitution, Mendoza explained.
“There exists something known as sex tourism; it has been acknowledged by many organizations,” said Mendoza.