By Mike Lillis - 07/24/14 02:26 PM EDT
A bipartisan group of House lawmakers is calling on the Department of Justice to go after people who buy children for sex.
"We appreciate the desire to focus on the traffickers, but we cannot ignore the buyers. Without buyers, there would be no market for the traffickers," the lawmakers wrote Wednesday. "Until we target both the traffickers and buyers, who are complicit in child sex trafficking, we are failing to address the root of the problem."
The letter, spearheaded by Reps. Ted Poe (R-Texas) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), was endorsed by 61 other House lawmakers from both parties, including Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), John Lewis (D-Ga.), Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.).
In June, the FBI announced that a national, weeklong sting operation — dubbed Operation Cross Country 8 — had arrested 281 pimps and rescued 168 minors who were victims of sex trafficking.
"This operation puts traffickers behind bars and rescues kids from their nightmare, so they can start reclaiming their childhood,” Leslie Caldwell, the DOJ's assistant attorney general for the criminal division, said at the time.
But the House lawmakers say that's not enough.
"The FBI and the Department of Justice must broaden their focus from arresting traffickers to also going after buyers," they wrote to Holder. "We urge you to send a strong message to both the buyers and traffickers involved in child sex trafficking that America's children are not for sale."
The lawmakers are pointing to legislation, passed unanimously by the House in May, that aims to reduce the demand for child-sex trafficking by going after the johns. Sponsored by Poe, the proposal would revise the definition of child-sex crimes to encourage more prosecutions, while increasing penalties for those found guilty of the crime.
An identical bill has been introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) in the upper chamber.