The House on Tuesday passed five bills to boost law enforcement efforts against human trafficking.
Measures to combat human trafficking were already listed as part of the House's spring agenda, but they gained momentum amid reports of the abduction of Nigerian girls by extremist group Boko Haram.
"While this problem may seem thousands of miles away, this horror is inflicted on millions of families every year, including here in the United States," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
The human trafficking industry makes about $32 billion annually, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
One measure, H.R. 3530, which passed 409-0, would reauthorize a grant program for state and local governments to train law enforcement, prosecute human traffickers and provide support to victims. The bill would further allow state and local human trafficking task forces to obtain wiretap warrants to investigate human trafficking crimes.
Additionally, it would increase penalties for traffickers who fail to file tax returns. Sex trafficking victims would be allowed to collect up to 15 percent of the fines levied against their abusers.
"Sex trafficking of minor children happens all over the world," said bill sponsor Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas)."In the United States, there's not much help for minor sex trafficked victims."
"No children should be for sale in America, and this bill will help give law enforcement the tools to win convictions," said bill co-sponsor Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).
A second bill, H.R. 3610, passed by voice-vote and would require states to establish laws to discourage prosecuting against minors involved in sex trafficking, instead referring them to child protective services.
Members of both parties said that the victims of sex trafficking — especially minors — should not be treated as criminals.
"There's no such thing as a child prostitute. Children cannot consent to sex," Poe said.
Legislation sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), H.R. 4225, passed 392-19, would make it a federal crime to knowingly sell advertising that offers commercial sex exploitation of trafficking victims.
"There is well established precedent for Congress to criminalize the advertising of illegal goods or services," Wagner said. "Surely the advertisement offering sex with children should also be subject to the same restrictions."
"It's common sense that if they're advertising the selling of a young child, it's sex trafficking," Maloney said. "This is something we can do that will literally save lives."
Free-speech groups including the American Civil Liberties Union raised concerns that the bill would unintentionally impose limitations on companies with vague definitions, however.
Another measure, H.R. 4058, passed by voice-vote, would require states to establish policies to prevent sex trafficking of minors in foster care. Members said that foster children were particularly at risk to become victims of sex trafficking, and needed extra support.
"In order to help these youth from becoming victims, we need better information," Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) said.
Under a fifth bill, passed by voice-vote, H.R. 4573, advance notice would be required of intended travel by registered American sex offenders to other countries.
It would also allow the secretary of State to restrict travel of people convicted of sex crimes. The bill would further call on the president to negotiate reciprocal agreements with other countries.
"No single law will put an end to sex tourism or child sex trafficking, but every step we take strengthens our ability to prevent these crimes," Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said.