Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today entered the following remarks into the record at the Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee hearing on “Gangs in Our Communities: Drugs, Human Trafficking, and Violence.”

Chairman Goodlatte: For decades, gangs have been engaging in criminal activity ranging from drug distribution to extortion to prostitution to identity theft. Whatever the activity, one common thread remains. Gangs are violent entities that profit off of the misery of others. Gang activity is not self-contained, their illegal activities spread far beyond their affiliations. They put poison into the hands of our youths, poison into the hands of those suffering from terrible addiction, they recruit vulnerable young girls into sex trafficking, treating them like chattel, and they commit flagrant acts of violence in the streets to bolster their image and intimidate other gangs, having a ruinous effect on their communities.

While crime rates do remain lower than they were in the late 80s and early 90s, recently, there has been an uptick in violent crime rates in American cities. This is a concerning development, especially in light of the fact that the number of gangs, gang membership, and gang homicides are on the rise.  Indeed, according to certain statistics, between 2010 and 2015, there was an 8% increase in the number of gangs, an 11% increase in members, and a 23% increase in gang-related homicides. In addition, FBI reports suggest that between 2009 and 2011, there was a 40% increase in gang membership. The most cited example of increased gang violence is the situation in Chicago. In 2016, Chicago had 762 murders, 3,550 shooting incidents, and 4,331 shooting victims – it is not disputed that much of this violence is attributable to gang activity.

As a result of such violence, in some neighborhoods, it’s regular law-abiding citizens who have to live behind bars – bars they had to install on their own homes, while violent criminals run rampant, free to commit flagrant acts of violence and intimidate any potential witnesses from helping law enforcement.

Even in their own homes, however, people are no longer protected from gangs. Gangs are using social media to sell drugs, recruit gang members, and in an incredibly disturbing trend, lure young girls and women into what can only be described as sex slavery.

Indeed, gang members have discovered that sex trafficking young women is a lucrative business – the upstart cost is low, unlike narcotics, the product may be sold over and over again, and it is more difficult to be held legally accountable.  Gang members use social media to make contact with girls, they aim for those who are emotionally vulnerable, and they prey on their naïveté and their insecurities. These girls and women are forced to have sex with as many as 20 men a day. They are assaulted and beaten into compliance. They are drugged and dehumanized. To these gangs, they are a product.

We must continue to combat gang violence – whether that violence is classic street violence like shootings, violence in poisoning the communities by pushing drugs, or violence they commit behind closed doors against the girls they exploit.

With new technology, new methods of making profits, and an increase in violence, it is important we have this discourse on street gangs, so we can facilitate ideas about how we can prevent gang recruitment and activity and deter violence through appropriate enforcement and punishments.

I’d like to thank our witnesses for being here today. They all have much to contribute to this discussion and I look forward to hearing their thoughts and experiences.

For more on today’s hearing, click here.