An Opportunity to Stop Child Sex Trafficking
Congress has a rare opportunity this week to pass bipartisan legislation to crack down on child sex trafficking in the United States. The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA) seeks to end the culture of impunity that protects and perpetuates the trafficking of children for sex.
Child trafficking is a billion-dollar industry in the U.S. It is happening in cities and states across the country, where very young girls are being lured, coerced, or even kidnapped and subjected to a life of abuse. These children endure a nightmare of repeated rape and traumatic physical and emotional exploitation. That is why it is so important for Congress to pass legislation to protect girls from the drivers of these horrific crimes: the buyers of child sex.
To understand the culture of impunity for the buyers of child sex, look no further than the headlines from raids of trafficking rings. Time and time again, law enforcement boasts about the numbers of traffickers arrested, but there is no mention of arresting the buyers. In fact, buyers are rarely arrested at all, and if they are, it is usually for misdemeanor solicitation. In any other context, what “Johns” do to the girls they purchase would be construed as statutory rape.
Take for instance Aviva. Aviva was living in the foster-care system until a trafficker kidnapped her at age 14. She was held hostage for almost a year. During that time she was raped repeatedly throughout the day and sold to at least ten different men each night. At just 14, Aviva forgot what it felt like to be human. She did not understand why adult men wanted to buy her body when she was only a child. When law enforcement finally intervened, they arrested Aviva (for prostitution), and not the men who purchased her. There should not be a difference between raping a child and paying to rape a child.
Congress has an opportunity to end impunity for the buyers of child sex by passing the JVTA. The legislation removes all doubt as to Section 1591 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s criminal applicability to buyers of child sex. JVTA also requires anti-human-trafficking task forces throughout the U.S. to increase the investigative capabilities of state and local law enforcement to go after buyers. And JVTA will provide funding for desperately needed shelters and other services for victims.
While the media is eager to highlight partisan bickering and dysfunction, JVTA represents a pivotal moment where Congress can work together to enact important changes for our most vulnerable youth. The legislation passed the House unanimously earlier this year and is supported by Democrats and Republicans alike in the Senate.
Congress has a moral obligation to help girls like Aviva. This week, the Senate will have the opportunity to give Aviva, and the other girls still left behind, a chance for justice by supporting JVTA. In order to truly go after the buyers of child sex, it is imperative that the bill passes the Senate and becomes law.
Malika Saada Saar is executive director of Rights4Girls. Cindy McCain is co-chair of the Arizona Human Trafficking Council and a member of the Human Trafficking Advisory Council at the McCain Institute