WASHINGTON, D.C. - “Bring back our girls” was the mantra on the floor of the House of Representatives on Tuesday. This time, though, the members who took to the podium were aiming their pleas not at the hundreds of the Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, but at the tens of thousands of children in the United States who are forced into the sex trafficking industry.
The buying and selling of children by sex traffickers is happening in communities in every state in America. The trade in child sex thrives openly on the Internet and on the street. Yet the punishment for the traffickers and the “buyers” is often minimal.
The victims, predominately young girls, are too often convicted as prostitutes rather than treated as abused children. According to the advocacy group rights4girls, “They are generally runaways from troubled homes or foster care placements where they have been abused or thrown away by their families. They are abducted or lured by traffickers and then routinely raped, beaten into submission, and sometimes even tattooed by their captors. Instead of treating these girls as victims in need of services, they are treated as delinquents and routinely put behind bars.”
- The FBI reports that between 2008-2010, 83% of sex trafficking victims found within the United States were U.S. citizens.
- In the United States, up to 300,000 children are at risk of being sold for sex each year, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
- The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that the average age at which girls first become victims of commercial sexual exploitation is 12-14 years old.
- There were nearly 5,000 foster care kids that state governments couldn't locate in FY2012, HHS reports.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children claims that 60 percent of "runaways who are victims of sex trafficking had been in the custody of social services or in foster care.”
"We are finding a very disturbing trend," John Ryan, the center's chief executive, told the FBI last year. "They leave foster care and they literally fall off the radar. That's something that needs to be addressed."
There are five bills being considered by the House. The combination of these bills attempts to address almost every aspect of this tragic situation, which is on the agenda now because of what is happening in far off Nigeria.
Here is more information about each bill:
- The “Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act” seeks to shut down Internet markets in sexual service.
- The “Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act” would invest in services for victims and increase and streamline law enforcement capabilities.
- The “Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act” encourages states to adopt safe harbor laws for victims and job opportunities through the federal Jobs Corps program.
- The “Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act” provides a variety resources for better tracking of children in foster care.
- The “International Megan’s Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking” targets those who go abroad to abuse youngsters by notifying foreign governments when Americans convicted of the sexual abuse of a minor travel abroad.
Update: The House passed these measures with broad bipartisan support late Tuesday. A group of Senators from both parties will now take up similar versions of these measures with the hope of passing them in the near future.
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