Last month, the FBI announced that it had rescued more than 100 sexually exploited children in Operation Cross Country, a nationwide sweep of sex traffickers. Some 150 people, most “pimps” who profit from sexually exploiting children, were arrested. A bill introduced last week in Congress, the End Sex Trafficking Act of 2013, goes a step further, calling for those “patrons” who seek sex with children to also be federally prosecuted.
It goes without saying that the new bill makes an important step in protecting children by recognizing that those who “obtain, patronize, or solicit” prostituted children are guilty of the crime of human trafficking. Beyond prosecuting both those who seek sex with children and those who profit from it, we also need to make provisions to better identify children who are being exploited and to help those who have survived such an experience.
“Soliciting or obtaining sex with minors, paying to have sex with a child, is a crime — period, end of story. This is a monumentally important bill that will do more to curb this terrible crime of [sexual] slavery in the 21st Century,” said Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, a sponsor of the bill.
The new bill amends the existing Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA). Under the TVPA,”the guy that brings those girls throughout the United States” is the one who is prosecuted, as Republican Congressman Ted Poe (a former state district judge from Humble, Texas) said during a news conference at the Capitol but “the consumer, the buyer, is not prosecuted on the federal level.” The new bill will mean that “patrons” will also face federal prosecution.
The End Sex Trafficking Act will seek to draw on existing resources, including federally funded law enforcement task forces, which are part of the Innocence Lost National Initiative, to prosecute both those who profit from and solicit sex from children.
Efforts to identify children who are the victims of sex trafficking must also be stepped up. “Our child protection systems often fail to see these kids, to recognize them as crime victims, and to extend protection,” Michelle Garnett McKenzie writes in the Minnesota Daily Planet.
McKenzie emphasizes that it is imperative to see sex trafficked children as crime victims who will need services including safe housing to address what can only be many and complex needs. To this end, Republican Rep. Erik Paulsen of Minnesota and Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York have introduced H.R. 2744, the Child Sex Trafficking Data and Response Act of 2013. This bill would
amend federal law to require that states’ programs relating to child abuse and neglect include provisions and procedures to identify and assess all reports involving child victims of sex trafficking and to train child protective services workers about identifying and providing comprehensive services to exploited children.
The legal response to human trafficking has tended to reflect “the long-held ambivalence about prostitution, which continues to rescue victims by arresting, detaining, and prosecuting them rather than by focusing efforts on the traffickers,” McKenzie writes. The End Sex Trafficking Act of 2013 can, as Poe says, help to end “modern-day slavery” by prosecuting those actually guilty of crimes, not minors who are the victims of criminal activity and in need of rehabilitative care and support.
The bill has broad bipartisan support and is expected to pass both houses of Congress unanimously. More than 85 groups across the country including the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, Texas CASA and World Vision International have indicated their support for a law that cannot be passed too soon.
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