Apr 30 2014
Chairman Goodlatte: “You’re pretty. You could make some money.” That simple message, which went out via Facebook to more than 800 teenage girls in the summer of 2011, was not an innocuous compliment. Instead, it was the work of a member of the Underground Gangster Crips gang, who used charm, and then fear, intimidation and physical abuse, to coerce impressionable teenage girls into a life of forced prostitution. The gang would recruit teenagers – through Facebook and other social media websites, at Metro stations and shopping malls, and even in the halls of Fairfax County public schools. In 2012, the ringleader received 40 years in prison.
This case has shed light on the horrifying scourge of domestic minor sex trafficking, which is not confined to brothels in Bangkok or Eastern Europe, but can literally happen anywhere, including right under our noses in my own state of Virginia. Since 2011, police and federal agents have taken down 28 juvenile sex traffickers in the Eastern District of Virginia, most operating just outside Washington, D.C., and have identified 41 victims—all of them American citizens, and many from affluent families.
These trafficking organizations, including some of the most violent criminal street gangs like MS-13, will use the instrumentalities of commerce, including our interstate highway systems and the Internet, to exploit their victims across state and even national boundaries. When asked why the trafficking organization targeted Northern Virginia, one of the victims said simply, “There is a lot of money here.”
Indeed, the Department of Justice has noted that it is more profitable for a trafficker to prostitute a child than to commit other crimes such as dealing in drugs. That is because drugs can only be sold once, whereas minor children can be, and are, prostituted multiple times a day. DOJ has also reported that, from 2004 through 2008, the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Forces have experienced an increase of more than 900 percent in the number of minor sex trafficking complaints.
For their part, the states are quickly realizing just how profound this problem is. For example, earlier this year the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation cracking down on human trafficking, particularly child prostitution.
The Judiciary Committee is continuing this important effort today. H.R. 3530, the “Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act,” represents a comprehensive response to the growing crime of minor sex trafficking. Among other things, the legislation provides additional resources to law enforcement via a new, victim-centered grant program; helps to facilitate these investigations by providing that minor sex trafficking and other similar crimes are predicate offenses for state wiretap applications; addresses the demand side of this crime by clarifying that it is a federal crime to solicit or patronize child prostitutes or adult victims forced into prostitution; and reauthorizes the funding stream for Child Advocacy Centers, which are often the first line of service providers for the victims of this and other crimes.
As a father, and as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, I can think of no more worthy use for federal law enforcement resources than the protection of our children.
I want to thank my friend and colleague, Judge Poe, for his leadership on this issue, and I urge my colleagues to join me in support of this important legislation.