CNN | May 24, 2017
She ran away from home. She was only 15 when the man she moved in with and thought she loved took her to a party and told her she had to sleep with somebody for money. She resisted. His pressure continued. She thought it would be a one-time deal. It wasn’t.
For weeks, every night, she was taken from bar to bar as the man she had trusted advertised her to other men and sold her. She was only saved by a tip to the police and intervention by a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement homeland security investigations special agent. Today, the man who trafficked her is finishing the second year of his 12-year prison sentence, as the girl he exploited tries to return to a semi-normal life.
As true as it is sobering, this young woman’s story is far from isolated. It is repeated, frequently with even more disturbing details, in towns and cities across our nation. Children are sold on the black market. Young women are forced into prostitution. Immigrants are pressed to work for little or no wages. Each and every one is an affront to our human dignity, our basic freedoms, and our common call to care for, not abuse, those who are vulnerable and in need.
The International Labor Organization estimates that 20.9 million people are trafficked globally. Of those, 68% are subjected to forced labor, 26% are children and 55% are women and girls. And around 4.5 million are victims of forced sexual exploitation. It all adds up to a $150 billion industry worldwide.
But human trafficking — sex trafficking, forced labor and other modern forms of slavery — is not some foreign evil. In America, the National Human Trafficking Hotline recorded 7,572 human trafficking cases reported in 2016, the most — 1,323 — coming from my home state of California. Of the total number of cases, 5,551 reported were for sex trafficking and 1,057 for labor trafficking.
And the matter is only growing more urgent. Reported cases of human trafficking rose 35.7% in America from 2015 to 2016.
Human trafficking and exploitation are evil. Victims must be helped, traffickers must be punished, law enforcement must be trained to detect and uncover it, and as a nation we must work to prevent it. That’s why the House stepped in.
This week, the House is passing 13 pieces of legislation to help put an end to modern-day slavery and sexual exploitation. These bills are both broad and specific. Responding to recent reports alleging that hundreds of athletes were sexually abused in the USA Olympic Teams, Washington Rep. Susan Brooks’ Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse Act requires amateur athletic bodies to swiftly report suspected cases of abuse to law enforcement agencies.
And Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson’s Protection Against Child Exploitation Act closes a loophole that, in 2015, let a man who recorded images of child sexual assault on his phone escape federal conviction. The new law would make it a criminal offense to knowingly consent to the visual depiction or live transmission of child pornography.
Earlier this week, the House already passed 11 other anti-human trafficking and exploitation bills, including Missouri Rep. Ann Wagner’s Put Trafficking Victims First Act, which directs the attorney general to ensure prosecutors are trained in how to investigate and process cases where a victim has suffered trauma, and encourages states to provide child welfare services and trauma-informed programming to victims of human trafficking. It would also encourage states to never refer to child trafficking victims as “child prostitutes” or “underage sex workers,” recognizing that these children are victims, not criminals.
California Rep. Ed Royce’s Targeted Rewards for Global Eradication of Human Trafficking Act allows the State Department to use its powerful rewards program, where the secretary of state may offer rewards for information that leads to the arrest of terrorists or international criminals, to target human traffickers who threaten both national security and humanitarian interests. In other words, the same program we use to catch terrorists can be used to uncover international human trafficking networks.
And Arizona Rep. Martha McSally’s Protecting the Rights of Individuals Against Technological Exploitation prohibits within the Uniform Code of Military Justice the broadcasting or distribution of intimate visual images. This is in response to an armed forces scandal where service members shared nude photos of their female colleagues via social media.
No single piece of legislation will end human trafficking and exploitation. The crime is both pervasive and hidden in plain sight. But every single one of these bills will help. And with each one, we are closer to ending this terrible wrong and giving victims the chance to live the normal lives that were stolen from them.