Putting a stop to child trafficking

Oct 10, 2013 Issues: Protecting Children

 
Putting a stop to child trafficking
The Hill
By Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) - 10/09/13 07:11 PM ET

According to the Polaris Project, human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise worldwide, second only to the drug trade in its breadth and sweep. And while the term “trafficking” might conjure images of children from far-away nations being forced into prostitution, this is a crisis unfolding right here at home. According to the FBI, there are currently an estimated 293,000 American children at risk of being exploited and trafficked for sex.

The majority of these children are girls, usually between the ages of 12 and 14 — in other words, girls in middle school. They are the lost girls, runaways from unstable homes or foster care placements where they have often been abused. Many of these lost girls are abducted or lured by traffickers who prey on their trust. They are routinely raped, beaten into submission and sometimes even branded. Then they are bought and sold on legitimate, mainstream websites like backpage.com, with full discretion and anonymity.

This is slavery, pure and simple. We all know slavery is abhorrent to our basic democratic ideals and to our way of life. We fought a war 150 years ago to end this scourge in America for good, and yet it persists today — in many ways, because it can. Those who buy children in this fashion are rarely arrested and charged with statutory rape, child endangerment or sexual assault of a minor. For all we talk of getting tough on crime and protecting our kids, it is rarely the buyer  — and much more often the trafficked girl — who is punished for what is essentially child abuse and child rape.

But we can do better. In our states of Connecticut and Florida, innovative efforts are underway in the child welfare system to ensure that child trafficking is considered a form of child abuse and neglect. Both our states are training their child welfare workers, child advocates and law enforcement personnel to identify, assess and care for these girls as victims of sexual violence and child abuse.
Now we need to take this momentum national. Together with members of both parties, we will soon introduce a House resolution declaring “Our Daughters Are Not for Sale,” which unequivocally states our condemnation of child trafficking in our midst, and encourages law enforcement and other efforts to help victims and curb these practices for good.

This is not and cannot be a partisan issue. No girl in America should be purchased, sold, raped, abused or exploited. Young girls and women all across our country need our help. On this Day of the Girl, we — Republican and Democrat both — affirm that we will do what we can to end this modern-day slavery for good. For more information on our daughters who are bought and sold in the U.S., please go to the Human Rights Project for Girls’ website  at 
rights4girls.org.

DeLauro has represented Connecticut’s 3rd Congressional District since 1991. She sits on the Appropriations Committee. Ros-Lehtinen has represented South Florida congressional districts since 1989. She sits on the Foreign Affairs and the Rules committees.