Missing Children’s Assistance Act Amendmentby Representative Joyce Beatty
Posted on 2015-01-26
BEATTY. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H.R. 246, a
bipartisan bill I introduced which will help victims of child sex
trafficking by decriminalizing their behavior.
First, I would like to thank Chairman Kline from Minnesota and Ranking Member Scott from Virginia of the Education and the Workforce Committee for bringing this important bill to the floor for consideration.
I want to also thank Representative Walberg, who is managing the bill, for his kind words and his leadership. He is managing the bill today for the Republicans. I also thank Congresswoman Karen Bass and Congresswoman Ann Wagner for their leadership and support.
Also, I would like to thank Senator Portman, who I partnered with on this issue last Congress and who introduced the companion legislation in the Senate. I look forward to working with him again during the 114th Congress to advance this legislation.
Mr. Speaker, last Congress, the House passed this exact bill unanimously by a vote of 409-0. Today, I hope that my colleagues in the House will again approve this legislation with overwhelming bipartisan support so we can better assist victims of child sex trafficking and ensure they are viewed and treated as victims, not criminals.
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to participate in Ohio's sixth annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day, which was held in my district at the Ohio statehouse. It was standing [[Page H554]] room only. The event was chaired by State Representative Teresa Fedor from Toledo, who has spent a lifetime on this issue. There, we heard story after story from victims, survivors, and advocates, just like the ones we heard on the House floor earlier today.
Almost every time I am home in my district in Ohio, I hear from people who are concerned about the victims of child sex trafficking. Constituents implore me to have Congress do more to protect those among us who are the most vulnerable, those who are being forced into what many deem modern-day slavery.
This is for a good reason. Human trafficking is one of the fastest- growing crimes in the world. In fact, according to the U.S. State Department, human trafficking is the world's second largest criminal enterprise, after the illegal drug trade. Criminals involved in trafficking trade prey on those children already at risk in our society, the children who fall through the cracks in our society.
In the United States, some 300,000 children are at risk each year of commercial sexual exploitation. Mr. Speaker, many of these children are runaways, homeless, and in and out of foster care. These children deserve better.
The average age of a trafficked victim in the United States is 12 years of age. Mr. Speaker, this is shameful. At 12 years old, children should be playing sports, participating in their school science fair, learning new languages, or just being children. They should not be for sale night after night.
In my home State of Ohio, each year, there is an estimated 1,100 Ohio children who become victims of human trafficking, and over 3,000 more are at risk. Ohio is the fifth leading State for human trafficking because of its proximity to a waterway that leads to an international border and a system of interstate highways that allow an individual to exit the State within 2 hours to almost anywhere.
The I-75 corridor runs through Toledo, Dayton, and Cincinnati. It is infamous for subjecting children to the horrors of sex trafficking, with reports of victims being repeatedly abused.
We know that no single system can successfully combat trafficking. Preventing, identifying, and serving victims of trafficking requires a multicoordinated approach across all levels of government. We need to encourage all people: when they see something, say something.
How can concerned citizens report activities of suspected child exploitation? Currently, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children operates a CyberTipline, which receives leads and tips regarding suspected crimes of sexual exploitation committed against children.
This CyberTipline is operated in partnership with the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the United States Postal Inspection Service, United States Secret Service, United States Department of Justice, as well as other State and local enforcement agencies.
These reports are constantly monitored to help ensure children in imminent danger get first priority. More than 2.8 million reports of suspected child exploitation have been made to the CyberTipline between 1998 and October of 2014.
Under current law, child sex trafficking is not identified as one of the types of sexual exploitation that should be reported to the CyberTipline, even though the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children encounters child victims of sex trafficking and currently uses this term on its Web site in order to encourage the public's reporting of these types of crimes.
Instead, the statute uses the term ``child prostitution''--yes, child prostitution, Mr. Speaker--which we know does not fully and accurately capture these types of crimes against children. My bill would add the phrase ``child sex trafficking, including child prostitution,'' to section b(1)(p) of the Missing Children's Assistance Act.
This legislation was crafted in order to improve and update the law in order to reflect the current state of Federal laws and to reinforce that children who are sex-trafficked or sexually exploited are victims and not criminals.
Mr. Speaker, children in sex trafficking situations are often misidentified as ``willing'' participants. We know there is a widespread lack of awareness and understanding of trafficking.
Take, for instance, a story I recently heard about Holly, who is a survivor of human trafficking. When Holly was 14 years old, she ran away from home with a man she had met at a shopping mall. Holly and this man exchanged phone numbers. He continued to pursue Holly over the course of many months.
Convincing her to run away with him was not an overnight accomplishment. He got to know her, analyzed her troubles, and asked about her dreams. He did this so that when Holly was on her summer break from the eighth grade, the pressures of her 14-year-old world boiled to the surface.
With all this confusion and pressure Holly was feeling, this predator was able to convince her to flee towards what she thought was opportunity, possibility, and freedom. In reality, Holly ran right into the clutches of a sexual trafficking ring. Within hours of running away with what turned out to be a manipulative and threatening pimp, she was coerced into prostitution.
Fortunately for Holly, eventually an officer on the street thought that she seemed underage, so he approached her and arrested her. She was soon recognized to be a victim and began the long journey toward healing. Today, I am proud to say that Holly is an advocate for stronger anti-trafficking laws and greater protection for survivors of all forms of human trafficking.
This bill, H.R. 246, is intended to protect young children like Holly, to rescue and restore them. By adding the term ``child sex trafficking, including child prostitution,'' to the Missing Children's Assistance Act, we will be able to continue to fight the perception that sex trafficking is a voluntary, victimless crime, and this will exclude them from prostitution.
I urge my colleagues to support this legislation.