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Chairman Goodlatte:  H.R. 3610, the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act of 2013, was introduced by Mr. Paulsen of Minnesota and Ms. Moore of Wisconsin in November 2013.  Cosponsored by a number of members from both sides of the aisle, this bill enjoys broad bi-partisan support.

Beginning with the “Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000,” Congress has legislated that minor participants in commercial sex acts are to be considered victims of these crimes, rather that criminals themselves.  The majority of states, however, maintain statutes criminalizing minor prostitution, directly conflicting, in many instances, with other state laws regarding statutory rape and child abuse. 

This inherent discrepancy was observed by one Dallas police sergeant when he noted that, “If a 45-year old man had sex with a 14-year old girl and no money changed hands, she was likely to get counseling and he was likely to get jail time for statutory rape… If the same man left $80 on the table after having sex with her, she would probably be locked up for prostitution and he would go home with a fine as a john.”

A growing number of states have recognized the pervasiveness of this problem and taken steps to address the issue either through decriminalization of minor prostitution, or by ensuring minor victims have access to the services and support needed for recovery.  H.R. 3610 attempts to continue that trend by encouraging states, through the grant making process, to enact safe harbor legislation aimed at ensuring that these individuals are treated as victims, not criminals, and are directed to support services, not detention facilities. 

In furtherance of these goals, the bill also requires the Attorney General to report on restitution collected from convicted trafficking offenders, establishes a “National Human Trafficking Hotline,” and ensures that young victims of human trafficking are eligible to enroll in the Job Corps.

In a recent Crime Subcommittee hearing titled “Innocence for Sale: Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking,” we examined the effects of criminalizing minors under these circumstances.  A witness at that hearing, Ms. “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, herself a victim of minor sex trafficking, testified about the power her trafficker held over her and the debilitating effects of being treated like a criminal when encountered by law enforcement. 

She noted that, “After being repeatedly beaten, tortured and manipulated, I became more afraid of my pimp than any other human being on this planet.  So, anytime I came in contact with law enforcement I knew I had to protect him to protect myself.  Plus, every time I encountered law enforcement I was treated like a criminal.”  We must act now to help ensure these children receive the services and support they badly need.

I urge my colleagues to join me in support of this important legislation.

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