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US Senate must follow House lead in combating human trafficking

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Protecting the most vulnerable among us is not a Republican or Democratic idea.

Neither party has a monopoly, and recently, that has been demonstrated in Congress and in state capitols as legislators strive to combat the horror of human trafficking — the slavery scourge of our time.

The International Labour Organization estimated last year that as many as 21 million people are victims of trafficking, including 11.4 million women and girls and 9.5 million men and boys, generating more than 150 billion in illegal profits every year.

In the United States, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) determined that out of the 18,500 reported cases of runaway youth in 2016 alone, 1 out of 6 were likely sex trafficking victims. In other words, 3,083 children suffered repetitive rape and other forms of severe sexual violence — and those were the reported cases.

In an all too common scenario taking place in the U.S., a young woman fell for the lure of a “nice” couple she met in a nightclub and shortly was forced into prostitution. Trapped for seven years by her pimp and the chemical leash of the drugs he supplied, Joy was forced to have sex with 15 to 20 different men each day on a circuit between Charlotte, North Carolina and Washington, D.C. She was starved and beaten repeatedly, and was too terrified to attempt escape. Thanks to an FBI sting operation in 2015 and the support of a local service provider, Ms. Lanie George, founder of Redeeming Joy, Joy was able to start a new life that now includes care for other survivors of human trafficking.

Most do not have the same, positive outcome that Joy had. Many are not recovered. Many do not receive appropriate responses, including trauma-informed services from someone who understands the complexities of this crime. Many are not even identified as victims, but more likely as criminals. Homeless and runaway youth are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking, yet go unnoticed by all except those that prey upon them.

While we have made great strides apprehending and prosecuting traffickers, we still lag far behind on both preventing young people from being sold into slavery and holding buyers accountable for the crimes they commit against children, crimes often facilitated on the Internet. Political will and support for current legislation, including Rep. Ann Wagner’s (R-Mo.) Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017, from both sides of the aisle, will address these pressing aspects of the marketplace of victimization.

On Feb. 23, President Trump displayed his commitment to stopping human trafficking and achieving justice for victims when he vowed “to bring the full force and weight of the U.S. government to combat the epidemic of human trafficking.” The U.S. House responded by dedicating an entire week of the legislative calendar to passing trafficking related bills.

The momentum in legislative action to combat trafficking has continued throughout the first half of 2017, as a large bi-partisan, bi-cameral coalition has formed in Congress to pass a variety of much needed anti-trafficking bills and bring public focus to the epidemic. Prior to adjourning for August, the U.S. House passed the Frederick Douglass Trafficking Victims Prevention and Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 2200 ), a positive step in attacking the supply and demand components of human trafficking.

Authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), with twenty-seven co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, the bill reauthorizes $520 million in federal funding over four years to prevent human trafficking, protect victims, and prosecute traffickers around the world. The bill would also prevent U.S. taxpayer funds from landing in the hands of international traffickers and restore the credibility of the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) by limiting the length of time a country can stay on the tier 2 watch list without demonstrable progress against trafficking.

This important bill, now before the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, joins three other bills that the Senate is anticipated to soon consider including: the “Abolish Human Trafficking Act of 2017,” authored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a cross-filed version has also been introduced in the House by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2017, authored by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act of 2017 sponsored by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio). All incorporate a range of critical improvements to existing anti-trafficking efforts and authorize the funds necessary to continue the fight against this crime.

We encourage Congress to pass these pieces of legislation as soon as possible and deliver to President Trump’s desk laws that provide much needed resources to assist victims, stop trafficking offenders, and train law enforcement and everyday Americans to detect, report and prevent this most heinous crime.

Linda Smith is Founder and President of Shared Hope International and former Member of the United States House of Representatives. Tim Head is Executive Director of the Faith & Freedom Coalition.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Chuck Grassley John Cornyn Karen Bass Rob Portman Ted Poe

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