Imagine having all of your freedoms taken away, being forced to work against your will and constantly living under the threat of violence — in short, being forced to live as a slave. Sadly, this situation is a reality for millions of children, women and men each year as part of the global human trafficking industry.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, it is estimated there are more than 20 million victims of human trafficking worldwide today. As many as 17,500 people are believed to be trafficked as a commodity into the U.S. annually. When you stop and think about these numbers as a whole, it shows that more people are being forced into slavery today than at any time in human history.
Human trafficking victims are lured by traffickers under false promises of jobs and better lives; and then are forced or coerced into prostitution, domestic servitude or other types of forced labor. Having one person be subjected to this treatment is one person too many, let alone the millions who suffer this treatment each day across the world.
My office has begun working with the FBI and other law enforcement officials to learn about the latest activities of human trafficking criminals; the actions of law enforcement personnel to stop these terrible crimes; and the ways in which Congress can help law enforcement. We have also been working with local citizens, churches and organizations such as the ministry Unbound to learn about the latest challenges from “boots on the ground” to stop this awful scourge on our society.
Unbound Waco and Antioch Community Church delivered a petition to our office with almost 10,000 signatures, including those of thousands of college students, pressing to see the human trafficking industry eliminated. They are working on programs including Awareness, Prevention, Advocacy and Aftercare to address this crime against our society’s young. Unbound is also working to show how the demand for pornography is one of the leading activities that is contributing to the growth of human trafficking.
As a result of the efforts described above, public awareness and outrage are growing regarding this epidemic and the outcries for help are being heard in the halls of Congress. Over the past 15 years, Congress has enacted laws to combat human trafficking, but more work needs to be done. During the next few weeks, the House will work to combat human trafficking with bipartisan legislation that will strengthen our abilities to prosecute traffickers and patrons. It will help protect the victims of these horrible crimes.
Law enforcement tell us they lack the policy resources needed to help rescue victims and that sometimes the law does not allow them to prosecute all those involved. To combat these problems, the House will consider the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, which would reallocate existing grants for human trafficking deterrence and victims’ support and provide additional law enforcement tools to enable authorities to prosecute all those involved.
Under many current state laws, minors who have been victims of trafficking are charged as criminals and go to juvenile detention as offenders. In an effort to encourage states to adopt safe harbor laws, the House will be considering the Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act. Rather than incarcerating rescued children, this legislation will allow them to be treated as victims and provide them with access to protective services and counseling.
Recent news reports have shown that a large number of sex traffickers victimize children in foster care. To help protect these children, the House will be considering the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act. This will identify, prevent and address sex trafficking of children in foster care.
The growth of the Internet has helped traffickers solicit customers though advertising. Through the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation Act, it would become a federal crime for a publisher to knowingly host or have advertisements for the commercial sex exploitation of minors and trafficking victims.
Another facet that has become prevalent among traffickers is sex tourism, which solicits sex offenders to travel abroad to purchase trafficked children. With passage of the International Megan’s Law, we will be able to notify destination countries that a sex offender who has previously abused a child is traveling to that country and encourage reciprocal notification to protect American children from abuse by foreign sex offenders.
Working with local groups and law enforcement, and with the passage of these bipartisan bills, we can help strengthen current law and take significant steps to work more effectively to combat the heart-breaking epidemic that is human trafficking. We fought to end slavery in the 19th century and we need to stand strong against modern-day slavery today.
U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, a Republican, represents the 17th Congressional District which includes Waco. He serves on the House Budget, Natural Resources and Veterans Affairs committees.