02/13/2013 04:31 pm ET Updated Apr 15, 2013

Senate's Historic Vote on VAWA

She exists at the margins. A bad girl. A girl who should have made other choices. She looks at the handcuffs around her small wrists. She watches the police let go of the man who just purchased her for sex. One hundred and fifty dollars to rape a 14-year-old for one hour. Before she was chattel, she was a runaway from a foster care group home, and before that, she was sexually and physically abused by those who were supposed to love her.

That girl -- who is the forgotten girl, the shamed girl, the disappeared girl, is now formally recognized not as a ho' or a child prostitute -- but as a victim. The Senate just voted on a historic measure as part of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Senator Portman, with the support of Senator Blumenthal, introduced an amendment to VAWA that recognized a trafficked youth as a victim of sexual violence, entitled to all the necessary supports and services provided to other victims of sexual violence. The amendment passed unanimously on a 100-0 vote.

Hopefully, the VAWA amendment and its critical language will help to reshape our conversations of sex trafficking as part of a larger discourse on violence against young women and girls in the U.S. Too often the issue of children being trafficked for sex has been disaggregated from how we discuss violence against children and youth -- and especially girls.

This disaggregation dangerously plays out in how policy and services are extended -- or not extended -- to trafficked and exploited youth. For instance, trafficked and exploited girls who come to the attention of law enforcement are rarely brought to Children's Advocacy Centers or rape crisis centers -- the critical entities that other raped and sexually abused children are taken to. Moreover, the anti-sexual assault community has not been given its proper role and funding in providing care and interventions to these girls.

It is our deepest hope that the Senate's reauthorization of VAWA, with its new language regarding child sex trafficking as sexual violence, will be a game changer in how trafficked girls are perceived, treated, and cared for. These girls deserve more than to be carted off to jail, or placed into programs that lack comprehensive, trauma-informed services. They deserve instead every chance to heal from the injuries of being child victims of rape and violence.