Adele was born to a drug-addicted mother. She spent her childhood bouncing from foster home to foster home where she endured repeated physical and sexual abuse. At age 14 she was placed with her biological father.  Soon after, he and his friends began to sexually abuse Adele. So she ran away – from continuous abuse at the hands of those who were entrusted to care for her, and from the individuals and systems that failed to keep her safe. Waiting there in the void was her trafficker.

For the next two years, Adele was bought and sold by men across the home state. At age 16, she was arrested and detained for prostitution, despite not being of legal age to consent to sex. No one saw her as a victim. Unlike other victims of child abuse or statutory rape, Adele was not taken to a Child Advocacy Center for a forensic interview to address the violence she experienced. She was not provided any medical or mental healthcare, or afforded an advocate with sexual abuse expertise given her history of trauma. Instead, she was seen as a criminal and routed into the juvenile justice system for her victimization.

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In fact, in most states and jurisdictions across the country, child sex trafficking victims, like Adele, continue to face arrest and detention for prostitution offenses or charges directly related to their exploitation.  All of this could potentially change before the end of this year. Members of Congress in both the House and Senate have put forth several, bipartisan pieces of legislation aimed at addressing child sex trafficking and assisting girls like Adele.

Sens. john Cornyn (R-Texas), Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharGOP in striking distance to retake Franken seat Warner: 'overwhelming majority' of Republicans would back social media regulations Republicans block Democratic bid to subpoena Kavanaugh documents MORE (D-Minn.), Mark KirkMark Steven KirkThis week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill Trump attending Senate GOP lunch Tuesday High stakes as Trump heads to Hill MORE (R-Ill.), and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSome employees' personal data revealed in State Department email breach: report Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless Hillicon Valley: Trump signs off on sanctions for election meddlers | Russian hacker pleads guilty over botnet | Reddit bans QAnon forum | FCC delays review of T-Mobile, Sprint merger | EU approves controversial copyright law MORE (D-Ore.), and Reps. Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeCook shifts two House GOP seats closer to Dem column Five races to watch in the Texas runoffs Five Republican run-offs to watch in Texas MORE (R-Texas), Carol Maloney (D-N.Y.), Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.), and Gwen MooreGwen Sophia MooreIronworker and star of viral video wins Dem primary for Paul Ryan's seat On The Money: Trump defends tariff moves as allies strike back | China says it's ready for trade war | Maxine Waters is done with 'nice guy' politics | ZTE allowed to resume some operations Maxine Waters is done with 'nice guy politics' MORE (D-Wis.) have come together to advance two key bills that would greatly help child victims across the country. The Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act, would discourage the arrest and detention of child trafficking victims for prostitution offenses; while the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA), would go further, in encouraging cross system collaboration, increasing specialized training, and providing services to victims in need. 

Specifically, the JVTA seeks to 1) increase training to law enforcement, prosecutors, judicial officers, and first responders to better identify and respond to victims of child trafficking, 2) encourage the use of child sexual abuse, child rape, and human trafficking statutes to prosecute buyers and pimps who abuse children, and 3) provide services to child victims through coordination with child advocacy centers, health care providers, housing agencies, legal services, and organizations with expertise in delivering comprehensive, wrap-around services to child trafficking victims. Both bills passed the House this week and are awaiting mark up in the Senate. 

Child advocacy organizations have come together to highlight the importance of these two bills in protecting child victims across the country. Without this coordinated effort, exploited young people like Adele would not have access to services instrumental in providing them with hope and healing. Included in these services are those provided by Children’s Advocacy Centers, where trained staff work with child and teen victims in culturally and developmentally appropriate ways. And, forensic interviews, as well as medical and mental health services are provided so that victims’ healing can begin and further traumatization comes to an end.

For too long have we responded to sexually exploited children, like Adele, with criminalization instead of care. Now, with powerful allies here in Washington, we are hopeful these critical measures can move forward and become law in the coming year.

Vafa is the director of Law and Policy at Rights4Girls, and Huizar is the executive director of the National Children’s Alliance.