Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse

Epstein charges show Congress must act to protect children from abuse
© Getty Images

It’s been said by the men and women who fight sexual predators that the bad guys care more than the rest of us do.  

Take Jeffrey Epstein’s offer this week to put up $100 million in bail money (surely his own, no bail bondsman would touch that deal) on charges of child sex trafficking. That’s more than Congress has ever done when it comes to protecting children from predators like him. Epstein might be rich, but he doesn’t have Congress’s money. Yet, year after year, congressional appropriators squeeze out less than Epstein’s offer for the entire national Missing and Exploited Children’s budget.

Why do the human rights cops say the bad guys care more than the good guys? First, the predators are intensely dedicated to their pursuits, and they far outnumber the protectors. And while most don’t have private jets and bottomless wallets, they seem perpetually five steps ahead of law enforcement on the technology front.

ADVERTISEMENT

They are committed. We are less so.

There’s one more reason. Too many good people, as the quote goes in “A Few Good Men,” “can’t handle the truth.”

Last week, I sat with a group of wounded, ill and injured service members training for a new mission in law enforcement with the Human Exploitation Rescue Operative (HERO) Child-Rescue Corps, as they listened intently to a computer forensic analyst who prepared them for the horrors they would see investigating child sexual exploitation:

Images of infants having their diapers removed and being raped. Video of young children bound and gagged. Audio of children screaming in fear and pain. Our speaker shared that it is sometimes too much to bear, but she does it because she knows there are children out there waiting for rescue. 

After years of hearings, members of Congress are aware that children have been turned into sexual commodities in this black market. And they know the exact line item in the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) appropriations bill that would fund this fight for our children: the Missing and Exploited Children’s (MEC) budget. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The MEC budget provides federal funding for the national network of child rescue teams like the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) task forces. It also funds the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and the AMBER Alert program. 

NCMEC receives essential child exploitation tips from industry and the public. Although those leads have been growing exponentially, from 1.1 million in 2014 to 18.4 million last year, federal ICAC funding has remained flat, leaving countless victims without the help they need.

Last month, House appropriators, thanks to years of bipartisan effort by Reps. Debbie Wasserman SchultzDeborah (Debbie) Wasserman SchultzOn The Money: Trump signs short-term spending bill to avoid shutdown | Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 | California high court strikes down law targeting Trump tax returns Wasserman Schultz makes bid for House Appropriations Committee gavel Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families MORE (D-Fla.) and Martha RobyMartha Dubina RobyOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe Here are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Pelosi: GOP retirements indicate they'll be in the minority, with Democrat in the White House MORE (R-Ala.), increased ICAC’s share of funding by 33 percent. However, to prevent cuts to NCMEC and the AMBER Alert program, Senate appropriators must now increase the MEC budget by a corresponding amount. 

That means increasing the House funding level by $10 million, to $95 million, while keeping the House ICAC increase intact. 

America can’t seem to get enough news about human trafficking, or alleged powerful, well-connected predators. Those are crimes we can talk about in polite company. The flourishing marketplace for the rape and torture of young children — an emergency far, far larger — is still an almost taboo subject. 

But senators can handle the truth. We need them to.

If Senate Justice appropriations leaders Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranMcConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug bill Senators inch forward on federal privacy bill Hillicon Valley: Dueling bills set stage for privacy debate | Google co-founders step down from parent company | Advocates rally for self-driving car bill | Elon Musk defamation trial begins | Lawsuit accuses TikTok of sharing data with China MORE (R-Kan.) and Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenSenate panel advances Turkey sanctions bill despite Trump objections Overnight Defense: Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East | Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty MORE (D-N.H.) hear the cries of these children, they will act. Their colleagues on the CJS Subcommittee, Sens. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiPotential Dem defectors face pressure on impeachment The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - A crucial week on impeachment Senate braces for brawl on Trump impeachment rules MORE (R-Alaska), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyHorowitz offers troubling picture of FBI's Trump campaign probe Horowitz: 'We found no bias' in decision to open probe Horowitz: 'Very concerned' about FBI leaks to Giuliani MORE (D-Vt.) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate confirms Trump's 50th circuit judge, despite 'not qualified' rating Inspector general testifies on FBI failures: Five takeaways Pelosi endorses Christy Smith in bid to replace Katie Hill MORE (D-Calif.), all co-sponsored the PROTECT Our Children Act of 2008, which authorized annual ICAC funding at twice its current level.

Add to that group Texas Republican Sen. Joh­n Cornyn, a longtime champion of ICACs, and there is no reason good, determined leaders cannot deliver a $95 million MEC budget now.

Let’s start proving that the bad guys are not the only truly committed ones. 

Grier Weeks, a senior executive with the National Association to Protect Children (PROTECT), has testified on child exploitation before House and Senate committees.