A Life of Courage and Commitment
U.S. Representative Diane Watson
By Thomas G. Whittle
Left to right: U.S. Congresswoman Diane Watson joins House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) at her swearing-in ceremony in June 2001; pays tribute to First African Methodist Episcopal Bishop H.H. Brookins with Rev. Jesse Jackson and former President Bill Clinton;
One of those leading the battle to eradicate the practice, to find those responsible and bring them to justice, and to provide help to the victims is U.S. Representative Diane Watson (D-CA), ranking member of the House Committee on Government Reform’s Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness.
“Studies have shown that more than 8 million children are enslaved around the world,” said Watson, adding that human trafficking “has reached staggering dimensions” because of a failure to tackle the problem on a coordinated, international basis that would deal with all aspects, including demand.
“Some of the worst offenders seem to be granted leniency” by the U.S. government, she said. “Are we too concerned about causing offense that might damage other U.S. interests and [thus] turn a blind eye to the offenders such as India, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia?” she asked.
Her hometown of Los Angeles has been identified as one of the industry’s major hubs, with an estimated 10,000 women from Asia alone compelled to sell their bodies in the city’s sexual underground. Other centers include New York, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, Atlanta and Miami, where victims from Europe, Asia, Africa or elsewhere are concealed and exploited. (See “Putting a Stop to the Exploitation.”)
In February 2004, Watson’s efforts to do something about the problem were rewarded. She announced a million-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to the Los Angeles-based Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), enabling the organization to expand its services for trafficking victims. “Despite the growing volume of trafficked persons in the United States,” Watson said at the time, “there is not one shelter for trafficked persons in the U.S. It is my hope that the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking will be able to build a model program that can be duplicated across the nation.”
“I have found Diane Watson to be a tireless advocate for the fair and ethical treatment of all people throughout our global community. Ms. Watson has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to fully exploring and understanding the complexities of the serious human rights abuses occurring around the world....”
Rep. Dan Burton, Chairman House Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness
Focus on Effective Remedies
The slavery issue and the CAST program show in microcosm how Watson has worked through the decades to improve conditions in societyzeroing in on specific problem areas and pushing through barriers to bring effective remedies.
The Justice Department grant “has had an immense impact on our ability to assist survivors of trafficking,” Namju Cho, advocacy coordinator of CAST, told Freedom. “By having safe, stable housing, our clients can focus on stabilizing other aspects of their lives.”
Two former trafficking victims, now graduates of the CAST program, recently became weekend managers at the shelter. They have received training on their roles and responsibilities. “This is a tremendous development for survivors who have gone from incredibly disempowered in their slavery situation to taking full control of their stabilized lives and contributing to the anti-trafficking movement by assisting other survivors,” said Cho.
Professional Therapy Protection Law
A lifelong educator, Watson worked as teacher, principal and college professor before becoming the first African-American woman elected to the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education in 1975, where she fought to improve educational opportunity and quality for all children.
In 1978, she became the first African-American woman elected to the California State Senate. There she established a long record as champion for those whose rights had been violated or endangered.
From 1981 to 1998, she chaired the State Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee. Among other accomplishments, she pioneered measures to prevent violation of patients’ rights by psychotherapistsmeasures sorely needed as a task force she headed found that an estimated 17,000 people in the state had been sexually abused by psychotherapists.
In 1989, largely due to her efforts, California passed a law barring psychotherapists from sexual relations with patients during therapy and for two years following. Her persistence resulted in statewide adoption of the concept that “professional therapy never includes sex.” Since 1990, the California Department of Consumer Affairs has published and distributed a booklet by that name. The most recent edition, published in 2002, includes a special acknowledgment to Watson for her groundbreaking work.
“An Exemplar of What Public Servants Ought to Be”
In an interview with Freedom, she outlined her hands-on view of what the individual must do to ensure rights and freedoms are safeguarded: “You have to get involved. You have to become an activist. You have to stay concerned. You have to monitor the news. You have to know what your elected officials are doing. You have to influence their policies. And the only way you do that is by becoming consistently active and involving yourself in public policy and decision-making.”
Community leaders interviewed by Freedom applauded her work.
“Tested, tried, provedshe enjoys a multicultural following based upon a foundation of integrity and sheer competence,” said the Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray, senior pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles.
“She is an absolute mentor and an exemplar of what public servants ought to be,” said Rabbi Allen Freehling, executive director of the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission. “She has an amazing giftbecause of her presence, because of her mind, because of her passion to build bridges amongst people who are normally separated from one anotherto show how it’s possible for a united people to become a united community in service to everyone who resides here.”
A Tireless Advocate of Fairness for All
Although firmly rooted in California, her interests embrace the world and have included service, from 1998 to 2001, as U.S. ambassador to Micronesia. She has received numerous recognitions for her help to others, including efforts to bring peace and understanding to the India-Pakistan region.
Her colleague, U.S. Representative Dan Burton (R-IN), told Freedom, “Throughout our years of work together on the House Government Reform Committee, and especially now on the Subcommittee on Human Rights and Wellness, I have found Diane Watson to be a tireless advocate for the fair and ethical treatment of all people throughout our global community. Ms. Watson has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to fully exploring and understanding the complexities of the serious human rights abuses occurring around the world, and has been a loyal friend while serving as the Ranking Minority Member on my Subcommittee.”