THE BLOG
07/09/2014 05:55 pm ET Updated Sep 08, 2014

Senate: Please Pass These Anti-Trafficking Laws

Covenant House

Homelessness makes kids particularly vulnerable to being lured or kidnapped by pimps -- if you don't have a safe place to stay, and you don't have grownups who are watching out for your well-being, your odds of being trafficked grow greatly. At Covenant House, the hemisphere's largest movement of programs and shelter services for homeless and trafficked young people, we see far too many kids who have been forced into prostitution.

In fact, our recent study with Fordham University showed that, at least in our New York shelter, almost a quarter of the sampled kids had been commercially sexually exploited, and half said they could've avoided this trauma if they'd had a safe roof over their heads.

We are getting nearer to the passage of enlightened federal legislation that could help vulnerable kids keep safe from sex trafficking. In May the House of Representatives approved a package of five bills to that end, and now we call on the Senate to follow suit and send the bills on to President Obama.

Please join the movement by signing this petition to the Senate, at Care2.org.

Here's what the bills do:

-- H.R. 3530/S. 1738: The Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2014 strengthens laws against traffickers and increases services and restitution to victims.

-- H.R. 4058/S. 1518: The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Improving Opportunities for Youth in Foster Care Act, identifies and protects young people at risk of being trafficked, improves the chances that those in foster care can participate in afterschool activities and have a greater chance of finding a permanent home, and improves data collection and reporting about child sex trafficking.

-- H.R. 3610/S. 1733: The Stop Exploitation Through Trafficking Act of 2014 requires the passage of state laws recognizing minors involved in commercial sex as trafficking victims who should not be prosecuted for prostitution, but referred to social services.

-- H.R. 4573/(No Senate bill number yet): The International Megan's Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking requires the notification of other countries when American child-sex offenders travel to them.

-- H.R. 4225/S. 2536: The Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act prohibits knowingly advertising the sexual services of a minor or trafficked person. (20% chance of passage https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/113/hr4225)

As with any laws, there are improvements to be made. For instance, the SAVE Act moves into the muddy waters of privacy and free speech on the Internet, and raises the difficulty of determining when a website "knowingly" advertises an underage or trafficked person for sex. There must be a way to clarify this muddy area - after all, it is illegal to sell guns or drugs on websites like Backpage.com and Craigslist -- why not children? Both sites acknowledge that advertising of trafficked people is against their terms of use. Craigslist closed down its adult services section in 2010, while Backpage.com did not. How can it be legal for Backpage.com to advertise the renting out of the bodies of at least 303 children between 2009 and 2013?

In addition, we would like to see stepped-up protections for young people involved in labor trafficking, immigrant victims, and more help to keep kids in foster care safe.

Most important of all, we need to prevent kids from being trafficked in the first place. When you spend as much time as we do trying to help heal the psychological scars of a young person who has been bought, sold, beaten, raped, and manipulated, you know that the best way to help vulnerable kids is to keep them from ever having these traumatizing experiences in the first place.

And the best ways to do that?

  • Make sure each young person has a safe place to stay and adults who care deeply about them.
  • Keep families together, and when that fails, provide the best possible foster care to children whose parents can't or won't take care of them.
  • Provide safe shelter for every young person who needs it - to that end, we applaud New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose administration has invested in additional youth shelter beds, including more beds for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.

But nationally, we need to step up our support for homeless youth. In President Obama's budget, the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act is scheduled to be funded with $116 million, $2 million more than last year, but a drop in the bucket compared to the need. The advocacy group National Network for Youth is asking for $152.5 million, and a tripling of the runaway and homeless youth budget by 2020. This is imperative if we're serious about fighting trafficking.

We need to reduce the demand for young bodies. We need to teach our children that it is not OK to buy sex, and that johns are in many jurisdictions considered on a legal par with traffickers. There is no good way to know if the "purchased person" is over 18 and is selling his or her body willingly. Stings, john schools, publishing johns' names or putting them on sex offenders lists, are all ways to cut into the highly profitable business of pimps, who can make $150,000 to $200,000 a year off the backs of the children they prostitute.

It's time we build on the bipartisan support that powered these bills through the House, and pass them in the Senate, a significant step in the fight against the commercial sexual abuse of children.

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