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Letter to The Honorable and Mrs. Eric H. Holder, Jr. Attorney General U.S. Department of Justice

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Washington, D.C. (June 8, 2012) -- Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) today continued his effort to push the Justice Department to more aggressively fight sex trafficking here in the United States, calling on the U.S. Attorney General to use his "influence and your position to highlight this problem and to find solutions which ensure that innocents are not victimized and that perpetrators are brought to justice."

Wolf, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds all federal law enforcement agencies and the Justice Department, has long worked to focus attention on the issue of human trafficking not only internationally but here in northern Virginia.

Below is the complete text of his most recent letter to the Attorney General:

The Honorable and Mrs. Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave NW Rm 5111
Washington DC 20530

Dear Attorney General Holder:

Thank you for your April 25 response to my April 4 letter regarding the department's efforts to combat human trafficking, or modern day slavery.

While I was pleased to hear that roughly two-thirds of U.S. Attorneys are presently participating in some form of anti-trafficking task forces in cooperation with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, civil society groups and service providers, it is imperative that the remaining one-third be similarly engaged, as is required by the consolidated appropriations bill signed into law last year. Your letter indicates that the department intends to issue a follow-up memorandum to all U.S. Attorneys regarding the congressional directive on human trafficking task forces. I request to be notified when that occurs and provided with a copy of the memorandum. Given that the House recently passed the FY 2013 Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bill, it is imperative that the directives set forth in the FY 2012 bill be swiftly implemented.

As you note in your response, the other issue I raised in my initial correspondence with you was my outrage that Web sites like Backpage.com, which in case after case have been found to serve as a conduit for the buying and selling of human beings, including minors, appear to do so with impunity. Backpage.com and its parent company, Village Voice Media, seem impervious to public criticism and shame. Recently, several major advertisers have, to their credit, withdrawn their advertising from Backpage.com. Still the web site is unmoved to change its practice. In fact, in the enclosed May 17 Bloomberg Businessweek piece featuring Backpage.com's attorney Liz McDougall, she references a meeting with Backpage.com's executive editor Michael Lacey and CEO Jim Larkin in which they appealed to her to join their team by giving "their word that they are not going to back down on this." As such, I continue to believe that unless there is the very real prospect of criminal liability that Backpage.com will fail to change. In light of this reality, I requested that the department provide an analysis of whether there are sufficient laws on the books to prosecute the type of activity that Backpage.com engages in, and, if not, that the department provide a broader legal analysis and recommendations to Congress of legislative initiatives that may be undertaken to fully equip law enforcement to tackle this problem.

Were the Justice Department to take a leadership role in this regard it would be in good company. Last August, 51 of the nation's attorneys general called on Village Voice Media to close the adult section of its web site. More than 500 faith leaders from varied religious traditions and more than 50 leading anti-trafficking experts and organizations have also lent their voice to this cause. And increasingly Members of Congress in both the House and the Senate are taking notice as are their constituents -- nearly 250,000 Americans have signed an online petition urging Village Voice Media to "stop selling ads that others use to sell minors on Backpage.com by shutting down the Adult section of the website." Momentum is building -- now the Justice Department must act.

I recognize that these are complex legal questions, but surely we can agree that this is not a complex issue. Children ought not to be bought and sold online. Those who facilitate and enable this practice should have to face the consequences. I welcome the best legal analysis the Department can provide in how to ensure that this happens.

As the nation's chief law enforcement officer you must use your influence and your position to highlight this problem and to find solutions which ensure that innocents are not victimized and that perpetrators are brought to justice.

Best wishes.

Sincerely,

Frank R. Wolf
Member of Congress


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