Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today gave the following statement on the House floor in support of the Global Child Protection Act of 2017 (H.R. 1862).

Chairman Goodlatte: Children are the most vulnerable and innocent members of our society, and we have a duty to make sure our laws protect them to the fullest extent possible.  H.R. 1862, the Global Child Protection Act of 2017, closes regrettable loopholes in existing child exploitation statutes to do just that.

Currently, dangerous sexual predators who violate children overseas can avoid culpability, simply by engaging in what the United States Code defines as “sexual contact” rather than what the law defines as “illicit sexual conduct.”  That is, they can go abroad, cause a child to sexually touch them, and return, without exposure to the criminal liability that they would face had they engaged in what the law defines as “illicit sexual conduct.”  I’m sure my colleagues would agree that it should not matter whether the offender engages in sexual “conduct” or “contact” with a child.  Either way, he is a child predator.  This is the very definition of a loophole, and it is putting children at risk.

That is because these predators are aware of this loophole – and they are able to share this information quickly in “chat groups” on the Internet.  They plot their foreign sex tourism accordingly, to circumvent criminal liability.  H.R. 1862 closes this loophole by expanding the definition of “illicit sexual conduct” to include “sexual contact.”  No longer will these predators be able to escape justice and continue to offend with impunity.

This bill also closes a loophole for recidivist offenders.  It is estimated that only between 8 and 20 percent of victims of childhood sexual abuse report they’ve been abused.  That is why it is vitally important that – when we do become aware of these offenses and secure convictions – our justice system imposes penalties to adequately punish and deter this evil.  Current law provides that an offender convicted of committing a “federal sex offense” against a minor shall be sentenced to life imprisonment, if that offender has a prior conviction for a sex offense against a minor.

In defining “sex offense,” however, this provision inexplicably excludes two serious offenses.  It is missing offenses covering abusive sexual contact with a minor under 12, and also does not apply to offenders who commit their sex crimes against children overseas.  H.R. 1862 fixes these oversights – and they were clearly oversights – by adding these provisions into the definition of “federal sex offense.”

When an offender has previously harmed a child, been punished for that offense, and goes on to harm another child, the risk that he will go on to abuse again is extremely high, and we must ensure our children are safe from such a dangerous predator. That dynamic of deterrence – ensuring repeat offenders face harsher penalties – is at the core of our system of justice.  It is even more important here, where the victims are our children.

Children are one third of our population and all of our future.  We must prioritize their protection. I commend Ms. Roby for introducing this important legislation and I urge my colleagues to support it.

For more on the House Judiciary Committee’s work to protect children, click here.