The Scourge of Human Trafficking
Monday, May 29, marked the 2- year anniversary of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act, called the JVTA. Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate worked together in a bipartisan manner to write this comprehensive, massive law to fight human trafficking. Basically, we said in this legislation that modern-day slavery will not be tolerated in the United States, and that message was made loud and clear when the law was signed 2 years ago. Since that time, there have been wonderful successes by providing victims with help and services that they need to recover, and by capturing and charging both the traffickers and the buyers according to our law.
Debbie grew up in an idyllic American neighborhood. The middle child of a close-knit military family living in the suburbs, Debbie could have never imagined that she would be forced into sex slavery. One cool Phoenix night, Debbie’s mother thought nothing of letting her young daughter meet a friend in their front yard one night to play. Busy with dishes and other children inside, her mother didn’t realize that her young daughter, clad in her cartoon pajamas, was being abducted by two men in front of their house. These deviants threw Debbie in the car, drugged and gang raped her. They held a loaded gun to her forehead and threatened to pull the trigger if she ever tried to escape. For 60 days she was forced to have sex with countless men. Thankfully for Debbie, a lucky anonymous tip led police to a hotel room where they found Debbie tied up and stashed under a bed
CHERYL BRIGGS’ STORY
Cheryl Briggs grew up in an abusive home, sexually and physically abused by her father. Her mother left when Cheryl was very young to escape the abuse. At the age of 12, Cheryl didn’t know what else to do to get away from the father she feared, so she ran away. She began hitchhiking with truck drivers and anyone who would take her. This led her to a ride with a motorcyclist and into human trafficking hell. He took her to a biker club filled with men who took advantage of her. He became her trafficker. She was forced to dance at a strip club by day and sold on the streets at night. She was trapped in the world of human trafficking. Cheryl didn’t know how to get help. She had no one to call and no one to provide for her. No one came to rescue her. That is until a patron at a strip club found out that she was only 15 and helped her escape.
In her formative years, Lena wore turtlenecks and baggy clothes to school every day. Why did she do so? To hide the bruises that covered her entire body. When her abusive foster mother lost custody, Lena ran away. She was just 13 years old. After bolting from the front lawn at the Houston middle school, she ran into a friendlylooking stranger. This man offered to look after her, protect and love her. Human traffickers manipulate the vulnerabilities of their victims, he knew that Lena would do anything to feel loved. For the next 3 months, Lena was trafficked to countless buyers. He kept her on the move, switching from motel to motel to evade detection. Finally, after tracking a BackPage advertisement her trafficker posted, police located Lena. They arrested her trafficker in the hotel next door. With her help, the police ultimately charged her trafficker.
Debbie, Cheryl and Lena are all human trafficking survivors. The things they had to endure are more horrific than most of us can even imagine. But they survived, they overcame this tragedy. It was for survivors like these women that CAROLYN MALONEY and I drafted the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act two years ago. This far-reaching legislation, led by Senator JOHN CORNYN and Senator RON WYDEN in the Senate, made it clear that Congress would no longer turn a blind eye to this scourge in our society. We wanted to ensure that victims were treated like victims, given the care and help they needed to overcome the evil inflicted upon them. We also wanted to make sure that the traffickers and the buyers were both brought to justice.
HOUSTON SUPER BOWL STORY
This past February, my hometown of Houston, Texas, hosted the 51st Super bowl. For most Americans the Super Bowl is a fun filled day spent with friends and family cheering on a favorite team. But for trafficking slaves and potential trafficking slaves, if can be a very dangerous time. Studies show that big events like Super Bowls create large upticks in the trafficking and purchasing of sex trafficking victims. In order to counteract this, The Department of Homeland Security, as part of its Blue Campaign Initiative, began preparing months in advance. DHS agents came to Washington, DC and briefed me and other members of the Texas Delegation on their anti-trafficking strategy for super bowl weekend. Through the Blue Campaign, DHS raises public awareness, forges anti-trafficking partnerships and brings suspected human traffickers to justice. I commend the Blue Campaign for collaborating with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies in preparation for the Super Bowl. As a direct result of this large multi-agency operation, over 750 people were arrested across 15 different states. At least 86 victims were rescued, and many more were likely ared being forced into the trafficking industry. Blue Campaign on this, and many other operations, I see firsthand the important role DHS has in fighting the scourge of human trafficking. This DHS Blue Campaign Authorization Act will ensure that this critically important program continues to provide safety to victims and justice to their traffickers.
SUCCESS OF JVTA AT 2 YEAR MARK
Over the last two years, more than 65 defendants have been charged with federal human trafficking violations. Of those, 10 were buyers. Without demand, there would be no market. JVTA gives law enforcement the critical tools it needs to capture and prosecute criminals who purchase sex from minors or trafficking victims. Long gone are the days where buyers could anonymously purchase sex from trafficking victims and simply return to their normal lives. JVT also allows a federal judge to impose an additional assessment of up to $5,000. This money then goes into the Domestic Trafficking Victims’ Fund. This fund provides victims with increased access to services and resources. It forces the criminals to pay the rent on the courthouse, forces both the buyer and the trafficker to pay for the system they created. They inflicted pain and suffering on innocent people, they should be the ones to pay. JVTA also clarified that the U.S. Marshals Service can assist local, state and federal law enforcement in the search and rescue of missing children. Since the implementation of JVTA, U.S. Marshals have helped rescue 102 children. As JVTA continues to be implemented, and prosecutors and judges are trained on the new tools it offers them, we will continue to see more and more traffickers and buyers held accountable for their crimes. We will also see a system that treats victims like victims, providing them with the care and support they need to become survivors. And that’s just the way it is.
On the 24th we had this Special Order, and we had several Members who spoke on this. The first Member who spoke was Representative WAGNER. She has served in the House since 2013, and she has, herself, worked extensively on human trafficking issues. She is a cosponsor of the Shame Act that I have sponsored, and we have worked together. I was honored to introduce her as our first speaker on this very important issue of the human trafficking after 2 years of the legislation being signed.
The 2-year anniversary of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act was on Monday, May 29th. As a former judge and co-chairman of the Victims’ Rights Caucus, with JIM COSTA from California, this is an important issue. I bet most Americans have never heard of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act because it was passed with bipartisan support, overwhelming support. Things like this don’t make the news because we are not fussing and feuding between the two sides.
But it is a very important piece of legislation for our country. It goes after the trafficker. It makes sure they get arrested, and they go to prison where they belong. It also goes after the buyer, the person who hides and tries to buy young children on the marketplace of sex slavery. But it rescues victims and turns them into survivors. That is why this legislation is important.
The average age of a trafficking victim in the United States is 13. That means some are younger than 13. And it is a menace and a scourge that we, in the House of Representatives, along with our friends in the Senate, are going to make sure that the legislation is appropriate to solve this epidemic. That is why we are reminding individuals that we have this piece of legislation that is passed, and other pieces of legislation as well.
The last thing I wanted to mention is part of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act allows Federal judges to impose a fee on the trafficker or the buyer, and that money goes into a fund that helps victims of trafficking. That is a great idea. Make the criminals pay the rent on the courthouse by this type of restitution program.
I want to thank all of the people who helped out. There is a lot more to be said about the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act. We are going to continue to bring awareness of it to the American public.
I can tell you one thing, though, traffickers and buyers know about this legislation. With the help of local and State and Federal law enforcement, we are going to stop this sale of our children and adult women here in the United States for money. And that is just the way it is.