There is no question that folks are tired and fed up with this Congress. As lawmakers return to Washington, D.C. after the holidays, the 113th Congress has the lowest ever approval ratings, and there is no relief in sight. The big policy questions of the day, like immigration reform or gun control, continue to be stymied by a do-nothing, deeply divided Congress.
And yet, that's not exactly the whole story. What is not known to many, is that this past year, significant numbers of Senators and Representatives have powerfully stood up for some of our most hurt, victimized and forgotten girls. This past year, my organization, Rights4Girls, has worked closely with members from both chambers and from both sides of the aisle, to protect our most vulnerable children subject to violence and exploitation in the U.S.
Last June, the "Women of the House," Democratic and Republican women members of the House of Representatives, came together and joined our effort by signing a proclamation that "Our Daughters Are Not for Sale." Led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), as well as several other esteemed female members of the House, declared a shared a commitment to ending the trafficking and exploitation of American girls.
Not to be outdone by the women members, the male members then followed-up with a "Fathers of the Congress" event. Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Congressmen Dave Reichert (R-WA), Rick Nolan (D-MN), Erik Paulsen (R-MN), Randy Hultgren (R-IL), and Tony Cardenas (D-CA) bridged ideological and party differences to give voice and visibility to girls in the U.S. who are being bought and sold for sex.
Together, these members recently introduced a hard-hitting resolution stating that our children are not for sale. The resolution identifies the emerging crisis of child sex trafficking in the U.S., especially of our most vulnerable children in the foster care system, and calls for an end to the culture of impunity that fails to hold buyers accountable for the rape and exploitation of these children.
"...Whereas, many child sex trafficking victims who have not yet attained the age of consent are arrested and detained for juvenile prostitution or status offenses directly related to their exploitation;
Resolved, That the Congress --
(1) Finds that law enforcement, judges, child welfare agencies, and the public should treat children being trafficked for sex as victims of child abuse;
(2) Finds that every effort should be made to arrest and prosecute both traffickers and buyers of children for sex, in accordance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and state child protection laws against abuse and statutory rape, in order to take all necessary measures to protect our nation's children from harm;
(3) Supports survivors of domestic child sex trafficking, including in their efforts to raise awareness of this tragedy and the services survivors need to heal from the complex trauma of sexual violence and exploitation;
(4) Recognizes that most girls who are bought and sold for sex in the U.S. have been involved in the child welfare system, which has a responsibility to protect them and requires reform to better prevent domestic child sex trafficking and aid the victims of this tragedy;
(5) Believes that the child welfare system should assess, identify, and provide supportive services to children in its care who are the victims of sex trafficking, or at risk of becoming victims..."
A survivor who was present at our Men of the Congress event became very emotional as she witnessed the number of prominent, high-powered Congressmen and Senators signing their names to the resolution.
She explained, "All those years that I was out there, I just wanted one man to stand up for me, and now look at all these men standing up for me and for girls like me."
Not only did these members commit to denouncing domestic child sex trafficking, but they also introduced, and are passionately committed to passing, game-changing legislation.
Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Wyden (D-OR), and Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX) and Maloney (D-NY) introduced the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2013, comprehensive domestic trafficking legislation that greatly increases victims' access to services, seeks to curb the demand that is fueling the child sex trafficking market, and punishes those persons who purchase underage girls for sex.
And, right before the holidays, the Senate Finance Committee, approved legislation that improves the child welfare response to trafficked and exploited children and youth. The Supporting At-Risk Children Act of 2013 requires state child welfare agencies to develop policies that identify and screen for domestic child sex trafficking, directs state child welfare agencies to document each case of identified sex trafficking within their system, and to report any missing or abducted children from state care to law enforcement and subsequently the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). The House is currently working on a similar bill.
There is no question that the 113th Congress needs to do so much more. But, lets give many of its Members the recognition, and praise, for addressing child trafficking in the U.S. and for joining a larger movement to end this form of abuse and rape against our most vulnerable children.
Follow Malika Saada Saar on Twitter: www.twitter.com/rights4girls