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Karen B.
Democrat CA 37

About Rep. Karen
  • Human Trafficking Month

    by Representative Karen Bass

    Posted on 2016-01-12

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    BASS. Mr. Speaker, January is Human Trafficking Month, and I rise today to continue to be a voice for the countless victims of human trafficking in the United States.

    If we, as Members of Congress, want to truly address the sex trafficking epidemic, we must face the facts. We must acknowledge and address the direct link between children in the foster care system and children who become victims of sex trafficking. For far too many children, the foster care system is an unwitting gateway to sex trafficking. This is a nationwide issue that requires a Federal response.

    In 2010, 59 percent of the children arrested on prostitution-related charges in L.A. County were in the foster care system. A 2007 report from the U.S. Department of Justice found that 85 percent of identified child sex trafficking victims in New York State also had contact with the child welfare system. Further, according to the FBI, an estimated 70 percent of child sex trafficking victims in Florida had histories with the child welfare system.

    Children in the foster care system are our children. When they fall victim to trafficking, it means that all of us have failed. To help all victims of trafficking, including foster youth, we must change our mindset on how we address this horrific crime.

    A child who cannot consent to sex should never be called a prostitute. The men who prey on them are not johns; they are child molesters.

    ``T'' Ortiz Walker Pettigrew is a former foster care youth who became a sex trafficking victim. When she was 15 and still in foster care, ``T,'' as she is called, was arrested for prostitution. While serving time in juvenile hall, she discovered that more than half of the girls serving with her were also charged with solicitation and, like her, forced to sell themselves.

    She described her treatment in juvenile hall as how you would treat a dog in a kennel. She was put in a box and kept waiting. She was treated like a criminal and did not receive any counseling or support services. Because she was punished and not helped, she was arrested again when she was 16 years old, and she spent her 17th birthday in juvenile hall.

    I am grateful that she found the strength and support to escape from her pimp. She now uses her voice to advocate for sex trafficking victims and to urge policymakers at all levels of government to do our jobs to prevent young girls from becoming sex trafficking victims.

    Because of actions from women like ``T,'' local officials in Los Angeles have changed their approach to addressing this issue. They haven't realized that arresting the victims won't solve the problem.

    Last year, L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonell announced that his department will immediately stop arresting children on prostitution charges. This announcement was coupled by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors adopting a countywide effort to ensure that child victims of sex trafficking are truly treated as victims and receive the support services they need instead of punishment.

    Last year, this Congress came together as Democrats and Republicans to pass comprehensive human trafficking legislation, but our work does not end when the bill is signed. We must also use our positions to urge local officials in our districts to follow the best practices used around the country.

    To truly make a difference this Human Trafficking Awareness Month, I urge all Members to reach out to their local sheriffs and local elected officials and urge them to learn from Los Angeles and begin treating sex trafficking victims as victims. Although the legislation is a great step forward, we should also use the power of our voices and our positions to ensure that more girls get the help they need instead of being treated as criminals.


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