Washington, Sep 13 -
Mr. Speaker, in the United States, throughout this entire land, there are 3,500 shelters--3,500 shelters--and these shelters are animal shelters. According to the Humane Society, there are at least 3,500 animal shelters in our Nation rescuing those animals, primarily dogs and cats, and making sure that they have some safety.
I have Dalmatians. In fact, one of my Dalmatians was from a shelter, Dalmatian Rescue in Dallas, Texas, is where I got it. Three thousand five hundred. Bear that number in mind, Mr. Speaker, because in the same United States of America there are five shelters--five--for minor sex trafficked victims in this country. Fifty beds in the whole Nation is what I understand that there are to take care of minors, primarily young girls who are trafficked throughout the United States for sexual pleasure.
Maybe we have gotten our priorities out of sync. You know, sex trafficking is nothing more than modern day slavery, and it is an epidemic in some parts of the world, and it even is coming to the United States. It's that crime to me that no one wants to talk about.
I spent a lot of time at the courthouse in Houston, Texas, as a prosecutor in felony court, as a criminal court judge for 22 years, and I heard a lot of cases. But this case of someone kidnapping a minor child and transporting them across the United States for sex slavery is one of those cases that is difficult to understand why it occurs in this Nation. And many people, many people in the academic areas and others don't want to admit that takes place in this Nation, but human trafficking does take place, whether it's with minors or whether it's with adults, and primarily, Mr. Speaker, it's with women.
I have traveled to the Eastern European nations as a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and have discussed with people in the Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, the problem those nations have when their young women are sold to other nations in sex trafficking. Here's the way it works on the international scale. One way it works, and in many of these Eastern European countries, young women can't work, can't find jobs, and so they will learn either through the Internet or from an ad in the newspaper, if they go to a certain country they will be promised a job. So they leave their home in the Ukraine or Romania, and they go to some foreign country. They meet up with some person. It's a male, of course, and he promises that he will take care of them and they will get a job doing something. And, of course, what they end up doing is becoming a piece of property for that male so that that person can sell that young female into sex slavery.
Back home where they come from, their families many times never know what happened to their daughter or their sister. They have just disappeared off in some other country. That takes place in that form in many countries throughout Eastern Europe and other nations as well.
Unfortunately, those who keep statistics estimate that overseas the customers, the ones that use that sex trafficked victim, about 25 percent, I understand, are Americans; Americans that go overseas for the purpose of engaging in prostitution as a customer of some person that is trafficked internationally.
But let's bring it back closer to home and what's taking place in the United States. Being from Houston, Texas, the location of Houston, Texas, where it is on the map and its closeness to other nations south of the border makes it, unfortunately, a hub for internationally sex trafficked victims that come into the United States, either stay in Houston or are trafficked to some other part of the United States, and it has become a hub, one of the hubs in this country for that awful, dastardly crime.
It works this way. This is one of the ways it works. Young women, either adults or minors in some foreign country, are smuggled into the United States illegally by someone who promises that when he gets them into the United States, he's got a job waiting for them. In some cases, these young women have paid this person to smuggle them into the United States. And once they're in the United States, they become the property of that sex trafficker, and he forces them into exploitation. He uses threats against them. It's as simple as if you don't cooperate, I will have my friends in your country where your family is, I'll have them kill your family. So a 14-year-old girl, what decision does she make? She doesn't speak the language. She's in the United States, and this person says, either you cooperate and work for me, or I will make sure your parents are killed, and many times they choose the only alternative they think they have--to become a sex slave and be trafficked into the United States and allow that person to use them as property in the sex trafficking business.
When they come into the United States, they're promised a better life, a good job; but that doesn't really happen to some of them.
There are many stories. I'm going to talk about just two young women. Gabriella--that's not her real name--was working to support her family in Colombia. She was told by a friend--a male friend who recently moved to the United States--that she could make a whole lot more money if she came to the United States. So she took him up on the offer to let him get her into the United States; but as soon as she arrived here, that same "friend" forced her into prostitution.
She couldn't afford to come into the United States. So, he said, Well, I got you here. Now you've got to pay your way. The way you pay me for getting you here and the cost of me getting you into the United States is you're going to have to become a prostitute, and you're going to work for me, the pimp. If you don't, I'll harm your family back home in Colombia.
So for 5 years that young girl was moved around in different brothels, houses of prostitution. She said after she was finally rescued that she had no contact with the public and she really didn't even really know what city she was in. After years of servitude, ICE raided the brothel where she was held and Gabriella was rescued. She was one of the fortunate ones because she was referred to services where she received counseling and helped to find housing and care for her own child and also find a job.
But, sadly, this type of trafficking occurs in the United States. People--women--come into the United States looking for freedom and prosperity, a job that they can send money back home to their families; but they end up being property of someone else who sells them for sexual favors.
There are all kinds of ways that this is done. They're trafficked through massage parlors that advertise themselves as legitimate businesses. In reality, they're illegal sex rings. Part of that issue, massage parlors, occurs in the city of Houston, where women, primarily adult women, are smuggled into the United States from Asian countries. They don't speak the language. They're used in massage parlors, which are nothing more than a front for illegal sex rings.
The problem that they have is this. This is a complicated problem. It's not an easy solution. They come into the United States. They're smuggled here. They don't speak the language. They come from a country where the police are corrupt, nobody trusts the government; and they find themselves in the United States, where law enforcement tries to help them, and they don't cooperate because they come from a culture where the police, law enforcement, are corrupt. They do not understand that they can get help in the United States.
That situation occurs--these massage parlors--occur in some places, and one of those is in Houston, Texas, where Constable Ron Hickman has put his special teams together to try to stop this epidemic that's occurring in parts of our State. These trafficking individuals--the traffickers--they're smooth operators, and they will do anything to get around the law and intimidate the victim to cooperate.
While victims are brought from overseas into our country, children in our own backyards are forced into a life of sexual exploitation. Let me distinguish here. I started out by talking about minor sex trafficking victims and how there are so few shelters for them, but let's distinguish the types of victims we're talking about.
We have the international victims who come into the United States, smuggled into the U.S. and they are transported around the United States for sexual favors. Then we have people that are already in the United States. Citizens or people that are here legally who are moved from city to city in the United States. So those are domestic trafficked victims.
Here's the big distinction, Mr. Speaker: generally speaking, if a person is brought into the U.S. as a trafficked sex victim and she gets involved in prostitution and she's rescued by Federal authorities, she's treated as a victim of crime and there are some places to place that rescued victim; but the rules don't seem to be the same and aren't the same in some cases for domestic trafficked victims. For example, if a victim is taken from Houston, Texas, kidnapped and taken to another State in the United States and is forced into prostitution by some pimp and law enforcement gets involved and they find her, in many cases she's treated as a criminal. She's arrested for prostitution. She's not treated as a victim.
Now, in all deference to our law enforcement folks, who do as good a job as they can, there is no place to put that trafficked victim as a victim of crime. So she's put in the criminal justice system, in many cases the juvenile system because there's no place to put her. There are no shelters. There are no safe houses. There are no beds for those types of victims. Of course, it's a problem of resources.
But it's something that we need to understand how difficult that is on a minor child who is a victim of crime to be shoved into the general population as a juvenile or in the criminal justice system to get her out of that system and treat her like a victim. Of course, she has a whole life ahead of her. It starts out she's in the criminal justice system. Once that happens, the next time she's seen or picked up by law enforcement, even with good intentions, she's put back in the criminal justice system or the juvenile system.
So we have a standard here where we need to understand that we need to treat the victim of that traffic--the young woman, the minor child in some cases--they need to be treated as victims of crime and not criminals. We'll get to the criminals and who they are in just a minute.
Traffickers use and contact very vulnerable young women. Many times they abuse and they manipulate these young women. The children--these girls, primarily--come from families, but sometimes they are homeless. They're runaways or in some cases throwaways, as some call them; and they're very susceptible for trafficking. They really have no place to go in our society and our culture. They have no place to go. And so when they're roaming the streets and somebody comes up to them and treats them nice, promises he'll take care of them, give them a place to stay and give them money, they're susceptible to that. Once they get into that environment, they become a slave. They are a slave in 2011. Our culture needs to understand that.
The pimps, in many cases, will do anything. They will beat them, they will abuse them, they will drug them, and they will manipulate them through old-fashioned brainwashing.
Take the story of Maria. Maria was an 11-year-old girl. Eleven, Mr. Speaker. That's her actual age. She was raised by her grandmother in Los Angeles. Her mother died when she was very young and her father was not involved in her life. This young girl, as most girls, in my opinion, needed a strong male figure to help her. She was looking for someone since she didn't have a father figure around. She didn't know that this male figure would end up being someone who would treat her as a sex slave.
One day, this individual approached her. He treated her nice. He was 28 at the time. He took her shopping, bought her new clothes, treated her nice, took her to his house; and as soon as he went into that house with her, she didn't realize that she would never return to her home.
He treated her well at first, but soon he had other girls who lived in the house take her to a house of prostitution, for lack of a better phrase, and show her how to be a prostitute. Because, you see, she was 11 years of age. She later learned that she was making about $1,500 a night that she turned over to this 28-year-old pimp. Later, she said she was beaten and brainwashed and stuck in ``the life'' and trafficked throughout the United States.
Her pimp got all the money, making her believe that this is the way it should be and that he deserved the money while she was being raped by multiple men each and every night. He told her he owned her--and she believed it because she was 11. She was still maturing into society and what was right and what was wrong was all being taught differently to her.
Maria was arrested on multiple occasions and didn't even know her grandmother and her sister were looking for her until the first time she was arrested at the age of 14. Fortunately for Maria, there was a place for her to go to receive specialized services, and she was able to get counseling and eventually able to get out of this life of being a slave. She finally believed that she had some self-worth, where she believed before she had no worth as a person.
Part of the problem, Mr. Speaker, is we don't have enough places for young women like Maria--50 beds, only five shelters, I understand.
So the United States, as a Nation, as a culture, as a people, the greatest place on Earth, we need to understand that we have to deal with this issue. It's only going to get worse. And ignoring the problem will not solve the problem.
Of course, all different branches of law enforcement must work together--local, State, and Federal--on this issue, and especially on the issue of the fact that international trafficking victims in the United States seem to have some places to go when they're rescued and domestic trafficking victims don't, and especially those who are minor trafficking victims.
The Victims of Trafficking and Violation Protection Act of 2000 was the first large-scale Federal law to address human trafficking in this country. The law addresses both the global and domestic trafficking problem and also establishes an annual Trafficking in Persons Report that analyzes the issue of global and country-to-country trafficking and places countries on a list--on a tier is what it's called--of the worst offenders, and I think we should know who the worst offenders are.
The worst offending nations in the whole world that are kept up with--all countries are kept up with--on human sexual trafficking and slavery, here they are: Algeria, Burma, the Central African Republic, Cuba, New Guinea, Iran--I'll repeat that one, Iran--North Korea, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Madagascar, Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, Turkmenistan, Venezuela, Yemen, and Zimbabwe. Those are the worst countries for this issue of international sex trafficking.
This legislation was reauthorized in 2008 as the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Reauthorization Act. We have improved the law over the years, and it's time that we make trafficking--international trafficking and domestic trafficking--as an issue, a human rights issue, a children's issue. Whatever you want to call it, it's wrong, and we have to deal with it in this country. And we cannot put an end to it until we are aware of the fact that it does occur.
Just like the old days when many people used to say when I was a judge, oh, gangs aren't a problem, there are no gangs in the United States. Yeah, well, we found out that was wrong. It's the same issue when it comes to human sex slavery. It is occurring, and it will only get worse unless we do something about it.
Our laws must identify the people in the system. And I think it's important that we take the child, the trafficked person, and treat them as a victim of crime. We have to have that mindset that in many cases they are a victim of crime. We, as a culture, need to recognize that and treat them that way and rescue them from that environment. That's the primary duty that we have: Rescue that child, get them out of that environment, and help them.
Let me tell you, these are hard people to work with. These young women are hard. They are difficult. The agencies that work with them find them very difficult to work with, but that doesn't mean we should give up on them.
So we take the victim and we work with them and treat them like a victim. Then we take the customer, the person that pays for the service, pays the slave to perform some sexual activity, we take that person and we prosecute those individuals. And when they're convicted, I think their photographs ought to be on the Internet. Line them up. Let the country know who these people are that live in this Nation that buy sexual favors from children. Show who they are. But prosecute those people.
Too often in the area of prostitution--there are even some States that want to abolish it as a crime. Too often we center on the prostitute. And in some cases, the prostitute, unlike the cases I'm talking about, is committing a crime. They're doing it because they want to. They're not forced to do it. That's a different situation. But we center on the prostitute. Very seldom do we prosecute the male, the person who uses the service. Our society better start prosecuting the person who needs to be prosecuted.
Then we deal with the trafficker, the slave owner. And there is no punishment that is strong enough for the slave owner in this country. Go after them. Make them know they're not going to do business in the United States and traffic international victims or domestic victims in this country. We will not stand for it. But let's come down hard on those guys and go after the other ones, too, who use that service and treat the victim as a victim.
The people who use that service, they need to know we're going to find out who they are and we're going to publicize their names because that's the demand that's created in this country. We cannot continue to let those that pay to abuse children continue to roam our streets, and we need to treat victims as such.
I am the cochairman of the Victims' Rights Caucus, along with my friend Jim Costa from California, and one of the things we're trying to do is raise awareness for victims of crime, especially those of domestic trafficking victims that are arrested and treated as criminals when, in the case, they should be treated as victims of crime. We must make sure that the international and domestic victims are both treated as victims and both receive essential services, and there must be services provided for them. We must also make sure that the victim in this case is rescued, that, as a society, that is the first thing we try to do is rescue them.
As I mentioned earlier, it's my understanding there are only about 50 beds for minor sex trafficking victims in the United States and five shelters. We need to solve that problem and help those organizations that work with victims of crime have resources to house and treat and take care of those very special people.
There are many organizations that are trying to help in the area of rescue, stopping trafficking of victims. I'd like to mention those before I finish, Mr. Speaker.
Of course, I mentioned Constable Ron Hickman of Precinct 4 in Houston that's working on the prostitution involved in massage parlors and trying to prosecute the people who are involved in that, but also to rescue those victims that are very difficult to work with because they come from a culture where they don't work with law enforcement.
Another organization is the Arrow Ministries in Texas, the YMCA International Services. Children at Risk in Houston does a great job. They do exactly what their name says. They try to take care of kids, children that are at risk.
Houston Rescue and Restore, Arrow Ministries, Redeem Ministries. On the national level, there are other organizations: Shared Hope International, The Rebecca Project for Human Rights, Polaris Project, Catholic Charities, Humanity United, World Vision, International Justice Mission, Vital Voices, the Coalition to End Slavery and Trafficking, Amnesty International, End Child Prostitution and Trafficking, Free the Slaves, Not for Sale Campaign, and Break the Chain Campaign, and there is that great organization, RAINN, as well.
Mr. Speaker, we, as a culture, as a society, as a country, as a people, I think that we are judged, we are judged as a people. The United States claims to be the world leader in human rights, and I think we are the world leader in human rights, and we should continue to be. Because we've been blessed with so much, we should try to protect the dignity of humans throughout the world, but especially humans here.
But we are judged not by the way we treat the rich, the famous, the popular, the powerful. We're judged by the way we treat the elderly, the weak, the poor, the children, victims of crime. That's how we're judged, not by the way we treat these other people.
So I hope that we understand the necessity, the importance of taking care of our greatest resource, and our greatest resource is children in this country. No matter who they are or what's happened to them in their life, we need to take care of them, especially those young that, in the year 2011, become the slaves of someone else for money.
Let's take care of this issue, Mr. Speaker, and stop this crime against humanity in this country and be the world leader.
And that's just the way it is.