Chairman Goodlatte: There is no more vulnerable segment of this country’s population than its children. For far too long, jurisdictions across the country have failed to adequately protect and support minor victims of commercial sex trafficking by treating them as the criminals. This must stop.
Unfortunately, according to FBI statistics, the commercial sex trade is the fastest growing activity of organized criminal groups. The number of children facing sexual exploitation, rape, emotional trauma, and, in many cases, criminal prosecution grows every day.
Despite the fact that Congress has long recognized that minor participants in commercial sex acts are victims, the majority of states maintain statutes criminalizing minor prostitution, directly conflicting, in many instances, with other state laws regarding statutory rape and child abuse.
Acknowledging this conflict, the Texas Supreme Court held in 2010, that, “because a 13 year old child cannot consent to sex as a matter of law . . . [the child] cannot be prosecuted as a prostitute.” Further illustrating this inconsistency, one Dallas police officer observed 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.”
The bill before us today, H.R. 3610, the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act of 2014, is designed to encourage the states to treat victims as victims.
Recognizing the need for protection and support for the growing number of child victims of commercial sex trafficking, an increasing number of states have taken steps to establish so-called “safe harbor” provisions that either decriminalize minor prostitution or divert minor victims to the services and support needed for recovery.
H.R. 3610 attempts to continue that trend by encouraging states, through preferential treatment in the grant making process, to enact safe harbor legislation, ensuring that these individuals are treated as victims, not criminals, and are directed to support services, not detention facilities. The bill also codifies a “National Human Trafficking Hotline,” ensures young victims are eligible for enrollment in the Job Corps, requires the Attorney General to report on sex offender convictions, and clarifies the authority of the U.S. Marshals Service to provide assistance in sex trafficking cases.
The Judiciary Committee’s Crime Subcommittee recently held a hearing titled “Innocence for Sale: Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking,” in which we examined the effects of criminalizing minors under these circumstances. A victim of minor commercial sex trafficking, Ms. “T” Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, testified regarding her repeated traumatization at the hands of her trafficker and the criminal justice system:
“…isolated, tired and helpless at the age of 15, the concrete box that represented my cell in… the largest of the juvenile facilities in Las Vegas, Nevada, seemed no less invasive than the horror of the streets. …it wasn’t all too different than the mental confinement I endured from my pimp.”
The re-victimization of minors engaged in commercial sex trafficking by criminal justice systems must stop.
Nelson Mandela once observed that, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” This legislation demonstrates that we choose to protect and support our children.
I would like to recognize the efforts of my colleagues, Mr. Paulsen and Ms. Moore, for the introduction of the original legislation as well as the many members who have signed on as bi-partisan cosponsors. Additionally, I would like to acknowledge Chairman Kline from the Education and the Workforce Committee for his support regarding the Job Corps provision of this bill.
This bill is an important tool in the fight against the growing scourge of minor sex trafficking. I urge my colleagues to join me in support and reserve the balance of my time.