Support S596 to Stop Human Trafficking
Each year an estimated 100,000-300,000 children—girls and boys—are trafficked in the United States. Domestic minor sex trafficking is one component of the larger crime of human trafficking, which affects millions of women and men who are victims of labor and sexual exploitation. Victims come from all racial, ethnic, geographic and economic backgrounds. They can be found in rural farming areas and urban communities. Typically the minors are between 12 and 14 years old and often find themselves treated as criminals. They are put in jail, sometimes for their own protection, because there is no safe space available.
During the last session of Congress a bill to provide protective services failed to get out of the House of Representatives. We now have another opportunity to help children find a pathway to freedom. Senators Ron Wyden (OR) and John Cornyn (TX) reintroduced a bill (S596) to provide over $2 million a year to fund six state and local projects to aid victims of minor sex trafficking. A domestic “minor victim of sex trafficking” refers to anyone under the age of 18.
S596 amends the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005 (TVPA) by authorizing block grants to states that create victim-centered programs for sex trafficked minors. The program will be administered by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs. This bipartisan legislation focuses on multidisciplinary collaboration between grantees, sharing best practices, providing resources to pay for training of law enforcement and judicial personnel, and expanding enforcement activities. Most important, at least two-thirds of the funds must be used to provide safe havens, treatment, counseling and legal assistance for victims.
Across the United States, as the crime of human trafficking gains visibility, citizens, service providers and local law enforcement confront dwindling resources and escalating trafficking incidents. It is reported that drug traffickers are becoming more involved in trafficking because of the minimum risk of getting caught. At the same time, when children ensnared by sexual exploitation are identified, many cannot be returned to a safe home setting. Many victims are running away from abusive situations at home or trying to escape from sexual predators in their families.
At the Senate hearing on S596, actress and advocate Mira Sorvino testified, “our foster care system is contributing to the trafficking problem. Too many children are being beaten and sexually abused and feel compelled to hit the streets. … About 1.7 million runaways or ‘throwaways’ leave their home for the uncertainty of life on the streets.”
Sexually exploited children often suffer from posttraumatic stress, depression, substance abuse and other conditions requiring integrated services. Most states lack effective coordinated response systems, and few states have programs that offer holistic treatment. S596 will enable service providers to create wraparound programming that helps trafficked children overcome the trauma they experience.
State legislators, at the 2010 National Conference of State Legislators, unanimously passed a resolution calling on Congress to provide adequate funding and engage in state-federal partnerships to combat trafficking. This bill responds to the states’ call for federal action. Forty-five states—most recently Ohio, where United Methodist Women successfully advocated for anti-human trafficking legislation—now have criminal laws against sex and labor trafficking. Such laws are being considered in Massachusetts and in Hawaii, where Susannah Wesley Community Center, a United Methodist Women National Mission Institution, has been directly involved in responding to victim needs.
Call or write your senators and tell them, “Yes, I support S596!” Ask him or her to become a co-sponsor of the bill. Call the Capitol switchboard at 202.224.3121 or visit www.senate.gov.
It is expected that a companion bill will be introduced in the House, and your actions can help make this happen. Call or write your representative the House and ask him or her to express support for action by working with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (NY) and Congressman Chris Smith (NJ) on companion legislation. You can also contact your representative via the Capitol switchboard, his or her local district office or at www.house.gov.
Host an open-forum on human trafficking and invite your senator. Find out how your community and local law enforcement responds to child sexual exploitation.
Learn the facts and read about United Methodist Women’s fight against human trafficking: www.unitedmethodistwomen.org.
Read “Abolition of Sex Trafficking” (¶ 6023, p. 733) from The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church (Nashville, Tenn.: The United Methodist Publishing House, 2008).