Congressman Smith Chairs Briefing On Child Trafficking Report
Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04) chaired a joint briefing of the Congressional Caucus on Human Trafficking and the Congressional Victims' Rights Caucus earlier this week which featured the unveiling of a new report on sex trafficking of minors in the United States.
The National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking, America's Prostituted Children, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and performed by Shared Hope International, details domestic child sex trafficking which it defined as the "commercial sexual exploitation of American children within U.S. borders." The report assessed four components of domestic minor sex trafficking: indentifying the victims; prosecuting the traffickers; combating demand; and providing protection, access to services and shelter for the victimsmostly teenage girls. Experts estimate that at least 100,000 American minors are victimized in America each year.
In 2000, Smith authored the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA: PL 106-386), the first federal law specifically enacted to prevent victimization, protect victims and prosecute perpetrators of human trafficking. Smith's TVPA created real penalties for traffickers and authorized extensive protections for victims of trafficking, authorizing grants to shelters and rehabilitation programs in the United States. The TVPA encompasses domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) or "the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of commercial sex act" where the person is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who has "not attained 18 years of age."
In his opening remarks at the briefing on Capitol Hill, Smith noted the significant impact U.S. anti-human trafficking legislation has had in locking up traffickers as well as prompting other countries to pass their own laws to combat trafficking and help the victims within their own borders.
But he also pointed to remaining areas of concern that he said "must be addressed with renewed energy and commitment to further safeguard vulnerable populations, especially teenage girls."
"The United States has come far in the fight against this modern day slavery, yet there is still a lot of work to do, particularly regarding the sex trafficking of minors," said Smith, a senior member of the House International Relations Committee. "It is a problem all over the world and the United States is no exception. There are new victims in our country every day."
Smith urged the attendees and the public to contact their members of Congress and ask them to support federal funding and grants to help expand shelter services for U.S. victims of domestic minor sex trafficking.
"In addition to helping rehabilitate those brought to the US for sex trafficking purposes," Smith said, "our shelters and programs for treatment must have the capacity to help trafficked American teens." He warned, "If we do not, these teenage victims will return to the street broken, destitute, and articularly vulnerable to being re-trafficked," Smith said.
"The buyers of commercial sex must be sensitized to the harm they cause women and girls and to the fact their money fuels modern day slavery," Smith said, turning to the issue of domestic demand. "A cultural shift that recognizes the link between commercial sex and the trafficking of women and girls would starve the modern-day slaveholders. If potential buyers knew of the unspeakable lives of servitude and degradation these victims suffer, I think they would think twice before laying down their money."
Shared Hope presented its findings of more than four years of research in America, proving that U.S. children are sold into sexual slavery. Former Congresswoman Linda Smith, Founder and President of Shared Hope International (SHI), discussed SHI's research and gaps in the U.S. response to domestic sex trafficking of minors. She was joined by Ernie Allen, Executive Director of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Brad Myles, Deputy Director of the Polaris Project.
Also participating from the DOJ were Andrew Oosterbaan, Chief of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section in the Criminal Division; Robert Moosey, Director of Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, Civil Rights Division; and Ambassador Luis C. de Baca, State Department Ambassador-at-Large for Trafficking in Persons. The DOJ elaborated on the latest efforts of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) and the Civil Rights Division to work with states in investigating and prosecuting domestic sex trafficking of minors.
The Trafficking Victims and Protection Act of 2000 (PL 106-386), authored by Smith, increased penalties for traffickers, created new shelter and treatment programs for victims, provided for sanctions against countries that do not work to combat trafficking within their own borders and mandated the annual State Department human trafficking reports. The report critiques 175 countries this year and comprehensively details the progress or lack of progress that countries have made in combating trafficking.
Smith's two subsequent anti-trafficking laws (PL 108-193 and PL 109-164) increased resources primarily for crime prevention, prosecution and expanded treatment assistance for victims. Data shows that after Smith pushed through his second law, The Trafficking Victims Reauthorization Act of 2003, there have been over 19,700 convictions worldwide and over 100 countries now have anti-trafficking laws patterned after Smith's lawwhere they previously had little or no protections.
Smith recently introduced H.R. 1623, the International Megan's law. Similar to the domestic Megan's Law (named after Megan Kanka of New Jersey) which provides for community notification when a sex offender is living in the area, H.R. 1623 would alert officials abroad when U.S. sex offenders intend to travel, and likewise encourage other countries to keep sex offender lists and to notify the U.S. when a known sex offender may be coming to the United States for sex tourism.