Human trafficking and sex trafficking are heinous crimes that affect our nation’s most vulnerable, often pulling our children into a vicious cycle of abuse.
As the co-founder of the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking, putting this industry out of business is a top priority of mine. We have a responsibility not only to keep our children out of harm’s way by finding and prosecuting traffickers and buyers of sex acts, but also to find missing children and ensure that children who are sex trafficked or sexually exploited are treated as victims, not criminals.
Last week, after years of Washington gridlock, we were finally able to pass three of my bills that will do just that. My bipartisan legislation passed both houses of Congress as part of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act and are now on their way to being signed by the President. This marks an important step in the fight to end this modern-day form of slavery and is the most the significant legislation of its kind in more than a decade.
Human trafficking is a human rights issue of our time. As a $32 billion global industry, it is only second in size to the international drug trade for criminal activity. It truly is a global problem and every country around the world must do its part to fight back against traffickers so that we can finally put a permanent end to these brutal crimes.
While the impact of human trafficking is felt around the world, it has also been a major problem right here in the United States for quite some time. Unfortunately many of its victims are the most vulnerable among us. It is estimated that 300,000 American children are at risk of sexual exploitation and trafficking. Children are targeted in every state across the nation and more than 1,000 of these kids are from Ohio alone. Sadly, the average age of each victim getting involved in sex trafficking ranges between 11 and 14 years old.
That is why the legislation passed last week is so important. One key bill included is my Bringing Missing Children Home Act, which I coauthored with Senator Schumer (D-NY), and improves how the cases of missing children are handled and strengthens the information needed for law enforcement officials to find missing kids.
Because of this legislation, it will be required to add a photograph to a missing child’s file if it’s available. All too often children are reported missing, but we don’t have enough information or a picture to help find them. Since Jan. 1, 2014 there have been more than 170 children reported missing in Ohio and yet we only have pictures of about 50 of them. This bill is an important part of reversing that.
The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act also takes important steps to protect and improve treatment of victims. It does so by adopting my legislation to replace the term “child prostitution” with “child sex trafficking” to make sure we treat children who have been sex trafficked as victims and never as criminals.
Also included is my Ensuring a Better Response for Victims of Child Sex Trafficking, a bill I authored to require that kids who are victims of sex trafficking are treated as victims of child abuse. This will allow more victims access to the services of the child welfare system while they recover.
While it is important to find and treat victims, it is also vital that we stay on the offense when pursuing the perpetrators of these crimes. The Combat Human Trafficking Act, which I coauthored with Senator Feinstein, (D-CA) will meet that objective, and major provisions of it are now set to be signed into law.
This legislation makes it easier for law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute those involved in sex trafficking by targeting the buyers and not just sellers. Strengthening our laws to target buyers will reduce demand for child victims and send a clear message to those who victimize children that they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
This legislative package passed both houses of Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support because fighting human trafficking is a moral battle that can and should transcend politics. These commonsense reforms are an important step in the fight to end human trafficking, and I am proud to have helped lead the charge in this fight.
Human trafficking deserves no place in America because every life has value and every person deserves a chance to succeed. Our fight will continue, and so long as both parties remain united and continue to bring a powerful voice to this issue, I believe we have a chance to put this terrible industry out of business.