Stem tide of sex trafficking

Wyden proposes a bill to help victims and fight trade

Under the Trafficking Victims Protections Act of 2000, the federal government has rated other countries’ records on human sex trafficking for the past nine years. Next year, the United States will include itself in the annual report on this sordid trade — and for good reason.

An estimated 17,000 people, mostly women and children, are smuggled into this country each year and forced to work under brutal conditions as prostitutes. That doesn’t include the thousands of women and children born in the United States who are trafficked in their own country.

In recent years, there has been a heartening increase in public awareness of the global problem of sex trafficking. But a myth persists that this is a global problem, and not an American one. As a result, far too little has been done to document and combat sex trafficking in this country.

The highly touted Trafficking Victims Protections Act included tough penalties for both sex and labor trafficking, but it has resulted in fewer than 200 cases with convictions against 419 people. The scale of those numbers contrasts sharply with the extent of a sex-trafficking trade that has extended its twisted roots throughout the country, including here in the Northwest.

Last week, Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced legislation that would take a modest but important step toward confronting trafficking in this country.

The bill would set up block grant pilot projects in six states that would establish shelters and provide treatment, counseling, education and legal aid for trafficking victims, while giving law enforcement new tools to crack down on traffickers.

It’s difficult to overstate the need for such services. For example, only 44 beds are available nationwide for long-term placement of trafficking victims.

The Wyden-Cornyn measure takes a victim-centered approach. That’s appropriate, because these women and children, many of whom were smuggled into this country and tricked or forced into prostitution, are not criminals who should be prosecuted for their activities. They are crime victims in need of shelter and other assistance. Prosecution should be reserved for the traffickers, not their victims.

In addition to shelter, clothing, counseling, legal services, and education and job training classes for victims, the $2.5 million annual grants would include funding for specialized training for law enforcement and social service providers, police and prosecutor salaries, trial and investigation expenses, and community outreach. The bill would also pay for improvements to the National Crime Information Center’s database of missing children.

Congress should approve the Wyden-Cornyn bill and, after pilot projects are established and debugged, expand it to the rest of the nation. It will take that and much more to stem the tide of human trafficking in the United States and provide real protection for the exploited women and children who are its victims.

source: http://www.registerguard.com/csp/cms/sites/web/news/sevendays/24299777-35/trafficking-victims-sex-bill-states.csp

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